The Statute of Limitations for Criminal Offences in Canada

By Last Updated: October 17, 2023

The Statute of Limitations for Criminal Offences in CanadaThe statute of limitations is a legal principle that sets a time limit for which criminal charges can be filed for a specific offence since the date which the alleged offence occurred. In Canada, unlike the United States, there is no statute of limitations that prevents the prosecution of many serious criminal charges at any time after the crime occurs. Anyone can contact the police in Canada to report a crime that took place years ago. The police can then investigate such allegations and depending on the offence, they may lay charges, as long as the alleged person who committed the offence is still alive, and they deem that there exists sufficient evidence to pursue and support a reasonable likelihood of a conviction.

Certain criminal offences, in particular straight indictable offences, which are of a more serious nature, are not governed by a statute of limitations. This gives the assigned crown prosecutor additional flexibility as no timeframe or limitation exists for laying charges. In certain circumstances, criminal charges can be filed a long time after an alleged criminal offence. This is seen in some cases of historical sexual abuse. For example, Canadian Junior hockey coach Graham James faced criminal charges, which he later plead guilty to, decades after the crimes occurred. There were victims who came forward at various stages (years) all of which were subsequently investigated and prosecuted. Indictable criminal offences in Canada are nearly always serious. For that reason, they are generally brought and prosecuted through a criminal indictment.

Indictable, Summary, and Dual Procedure/Hybrid Offences

Indictable Offences

Examples of serious indictable offences include:

  • murder,
  • manslaughter,
  • kidnapping,
  • arson,
  • treason,
  • drug trafficking, and
  • serious fraud-related offences such as theft of public funds.

Statute of Limitations for Indictable Offences

No statutes of limitations apply to such offences, allowing the prosecution maximum time to build their case against a defendant. In Canada, indictable offences are tried either by a judge working alone or by a judge and a jury.

Relative to dual procedure/ hybrid offences, Canadian crown prosecutors have the discretion of prosecuting such offences either by indictment or by summary conviction.

The statute of limitations for criminal offences in Canada establishes time limits within which charges must be filed against an individual. The limitations vary depending on the severity and classification of the offence.

While summary conviction offences have one-year limitation periods, indictable serious offences typically have no statutory limitation period. Hybrid offences can have different limitation periods based on the chosen mode of prosecution. Understanding the statute of limitations is crucial, as it ensures a fair and efficient legal process and protects individuals from undue delays in prosecution. However, it is advisable to consult an experienced criminal defence lawyer and refer to the applicable laws to determine the specific limitation if you have questions or concerns.

Summary Offences

Summary conviction offences are of a less serious nature than indictable offences. Pursuant to Section 786(2) of the Criminal Code of Canada, a summary offence conviction must be brought within twelve months of the date of the alleged criminal act. If it is not brought within such a timeframe, the prosecution forever loses its right to bring charges against the defendant for the alleged violation.

Understanding Summary Offences

  • An example of summary an offence includes causing of a public disturbance under section 175 of the Criminal Code of Canada. Because offences such as this are viewed by the courts as less serious than indictable offences, they ultimately carry considerably lighter sentences and penalties.
  • In Canada, summary conviction offences are tried by a judge. There is no right to a jury trial.
  • Charges which pertain to summary conviction offences must be laid within 12 months of the alleged date of the incident- this time period is the statute of limitations for such offences.

Hybrid Offences

Dual procedure/hybrid offences combine elements of both an indictable offence and a summary conviction prosecution. Ultimately, this provides the prosecution the flexibility to proceed either by summary conviction or by indictment, whichever way they believe will benefit them. They allow the prosecution to proceed without the constraints of the twelve-month statute of limitations that must be observed in a summary conviction prosecution.

For a more serious offence, such as allegations of violence, where the allegations may be viewed as so egregious that there is a public safety risk or component, more often than not, the prosecution may choose to proceed as an indictable offence, where they could seek a longer sentence.

For a less serious violation, they may be more likely to choose to proceed by summary conviction, where the case would be resolved more quickly, and the defendant would face a shorter or less severe punishment.

Dual procedure/ Hybrid offences are the most common offences in Canada, and include such matters as common assault, possession of small amounts of controlled substances, and driving while impaired.

What is the Statute of Limitations in Canada?

The statute of limitations establishes a timeframe within which criminal charges must be brought against an individual after an offence has been committed, or is alleged to have been committed. Once the statute of limitations expires, the prosecution is no longer able to lay or pursue charges, and the accused cannot be prosecuted for that specific offence.

For indictable offences, there is no statute of limitations or timeframe.

For summary conviction offences, there is a 12-month statute of limitations.

Why Do Summary Conviction Offences Have a Statute of Limitation?

Secon 786 (2) of the Criminal Code of Canada provides the legislative authority that the statute of limitations for summary conviction offences is twelve months. Ultimately, this recognizes that delays in prosecution could lead to difficulties in obtaining evidence and witness testimony. It promotes efficiency in the legal system and protects the integrity of the system in regard to safeguarding individuals from prolonged uncertainty and potential abuses of the criminal process.

Statute of Limitation for Indictable Serious Offences

Indictable serious offences, which include more severe crimes such as murder, sexual assault, and robbery, generally have no statutory limitation period in Canada. These crimes are considered to be of significant public concern and are subject to prosecution regardless of the passage of time.

Statute of Limitation for Hybrid Offences (Dual Procedure)

As described above, Dual Procedure/ Hybrid offences can be prosecuted either summarily or by indictment, depending on the severity and circumstances of the case. The statute of limitations for hybrid offences depends on whether the prosecution proceeds summarily or by indictment. If the Crown proceeds summarily, the limitation period is legislated at 12 months, while if they proceed by indictment, there is no limitation period.


What if I committed a crime, but the Statute of Limitations has expired?

If the statute of limitations has expired for a particular offence, the prosecution is barred from pursuing charges against you. However, it is important to seek legal advice in such situations, as exceptions or specific circumstances may apply. For example, if the alleged offence is a dual procedure/hybrid offence, as is most common in the Criminal Code of Canada, the crown prosecutor can elect to proceed by indictment and therefore there is no statute of limitations. Strategic Criminal Defence offers a free consultation, and if you have concerns as to your jeopardy for a past offence, it may be best to discuss the unique circumstances with an experienced criminal defence lawyer.

What Crimes Have a Statute of Limitations in Canada?

As per Section 786(2) of the Criminal Code of Canada, the statute of limitations applies to summary conviction (and dual procedure/ hybrid offences), while indictable serious offences do not have a limitation period.

Is There a Statute of Limitations on Domestic Violence in Canada?

Domestic violence-related offences, such as assault, are subject to the same statute of limitations as other similar offences. The limitation period varies based on the classification of the offence. If you have concerns as to past or historic allegations of domestic violence, you can discuss this during a free consultation with Strategic Criminal Defence.

I was in a bar fight in College a few years ago- should I be worried that I could still be charged?

If you were involved in an incident where you feel you may have criminal jeopardy in the past, or allegations may arise, you can contact Strategic Criminal Defence at any time and book a free consultation to discuss the matter. Oftentimes, minor physical altercations which occur at a licensed premise (such as bar fights) are resolved in a timely manner if there are no injuries. However, each unique circumstances are different, and in today’s age of social media, videos or other forms of evidence can arise at a later date. If you feel concerned about a past incident, do not hesitate to contact Strategic Criminal Defence for a free consultation.

What Crimes in Canada Have No Statute of Limitations?

Indictable offences, which encompass crimes such as murder, sexual assault, and robbery, have no statutory limitation period. These crimes can be prosecuted regardless of how much time has passed since the alleged offence date.

What Crimes Have the Longest Statute of Limitations?

As described above, there is no statute of limitations for indictable offences. Historic allegations of serious crimes, such as sexual assault, can be investigated and prosecuted if there are reasonable grounds to believe the offence occurred, and the prosecutor establishes that there is a reasonable likelihood of conviction.

Depending on your circumstances, if you feel concerns, or have questions about a past incident, you can contact Strategic Criminal Defence now, and book a free consultation.

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About The Author

Michael Oykhman

Managing Partner

Michael Oykhman is a senior lawyer and founder of Strategic Criminal Defence, a full-service criminal law firm with central law offices across Western Canada and Ontario.

My professional experience consists of countless court appearances and thousands of successful defences and satisfied clients. Over the last 10 years, I have worked to build a law office where all the lawyers share our collective experience, resources, and passion to help people. Our team approach to legal representation is client–rather than only law–centred. We look for opportunities to add value to our clients through strategic thinking and creative solutions.

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