When we think of limitation periods in Canada, we often think of the limitation periods that apply to civil lawsuits. However, there is also a limitation period that applies to criminal matters in Canada.
Section 786(2) of the Criminal Code states that when dealing with summary conviction offences, the Crown may only lay charges against an accused for up to one year after the alleged incident occurs. This means that if an accused person assaults another individual on May 1, 2020 and the Crown wishes to proceed summarily, they may only lay charges against the accused until May 1, 2021. After this one-year period has elapsed the Court no longer has jurisdiction.
It is important to note that this limitation period only applies to criminal cases that are summary conviction offences, or hybrid offences that are being prosecuted summarily. When an individual has committed an indictable offence or a hybrid offence that is being prosecuted as an indictable offence there is no applicable limitation period and the accused may be charged at any point after the alleged incident.
In some situations, it may be beneficial for an accused to waive the limitation period, allowing the Crown to lay summary conviction charges after the one year period. This tactical decision may be preferable where the accused has allegedly committed a hybrid offence and the Crown intends to proceed by indictment if the accused does not waive the limitation period.
It is generally preferable for an accused to have the Crown proceed summarily because of the enhanced maximum prison sentences that accompany indictable offences.