What is the Difference Between Murder and Manslaughter in Canada?

What is the Difference Between Murder and Manslaughter in Canada

“Murder” and “Manslaughter” are two immensely controversial terms used in the legal system. Even these are used interchangeably in Canadian law. In reality, there is a huge difference between murder and manslaughter.

Both cause death to someone. However, one is intentional, and the other is unintentional. Murder involves malice and an evil intention of consequence; manslaughter has the absence of evil intent.

In Canada, murder and manslaughter are distinguished based on the intent and surrounding circumstances of the killing of another person. The Criminal Code of Canada defines these differences clearly.

What is Murder?

Murder, in legal terms, is the unlawful killing of another human being with malice aforethought. That is, the offender must have the intention to kill or cause grievous bodily harm to someone.

It is the most severe crime that involves intent and forethought. This forethought has malice that comes in two forms – express malice and implied malice.

Express malice refers to the clear intention to kill or seriously harm someone. For example, when the offender puts a deadly amount of poison into someone’s drink or a man comes with a loaded gun and fires at another person’s head.

Implied malice refers to showing reckless disregard for someone, which may result in that person’s death. This act is also called “depraved indifference.” Drunk driving is one common example of implied malice.

When any of the two malice is present in the unlawful killing of someone, it is considered murder. Murder is classified into first-degree and second-degree murder.

Both involve a specific intent to kill or to cause bodily harm that the perpetrator knows is likely to result in death.

First-degree Murder

The killing is planned and deliberate. The murder occurs in specific situations, such as during the commission of certain crimes (e.g., sexual assault, kidnapping) or against certain victims (e.g., on-duty police officers or prison employees).

Second-Degree Murder

The killing is intentional but not deliberate or planned. This includes killing that occurs during deliberate acts of violence. The primary intention was not death.

What is Manslaughter?

Manslaughter, in legal terms, is the unlawful killing of another person without malice aforethought. It is a less severe offence compared to murder because it does not involve intent or premeditation to kill.

Manslaughter has the absence of malice aforethought. This means it involves less moral culpability than first-degree or second-degree murder. While manslaughter is a less severe crime, the penalties for it are less than that for murder.

Difference Between Murder and Manslaughter in Canada

The intention of the offender is the main difference between murder and manslaughter. Murder involves intent to kill or cause grievous bodily harm to another person. Though murder can be of different degrees, each requires intent.

Manslaughter, on the other hand, does not require intent to kill. Instead, it involves unintentional killing resulting from negligence or unlawful acts. That is, the offender did not intend to kill, but their actions caused the victim’s death.

Also, murder involves premeditation, whereas manslaughter does not involve premeditation. That is why manslaughter is considered a less severe crime compared to murder. The punishment for murder would be different than manslaughter.

Since murder happened with intention, the offender would get mandatory life sentences with varying parole eligibility. Oppositely, manslaughter has a wide range of possible sentences based on the circumstances and severity of the crime. 

Types of Manslaughter in Canada

Manslaughter is generally categorized into two types: voluntary and involuntary.

Voluntary manslaughter occurs in two circumstances – the heat of passion and imperfect self-defence.

Heat of passion: It happens when a person is provoked and kills in the heat of passion caused by that provocation. The provocation must be such that it causes a reasonable person to lose self-control.

Imperfect Self-defense: It happens when a person kills someone in self-defence against an imminent attack.

For example, a person finds their spouse cheating with another person. In a sudden rage, that person kills the spouse or the lover. The killing was intentional but provoked by the immediate circumstances.

Involuntary manslaughter also occurs in two situations – criminal negligence and unlawful act manslaughter.

Criminal negligence: It happens when a person kills another recklessly or negligently, which shows disregard for human life. An example would be a fatal car accident caused by a driver driving recklessly.

Unlawful act manslaughter: It happens when someone kills another person while committing a non-criminal illegal act.

For example, a person drives their car recklessly through a crowded street. He accidentally hits and kills a pedestrian. The death was unintentional but resulted from negligent behaviour.

Charges and Sentencing for Murder and Manslaughter

The murder charges are more severe than the manslaughter charges. Hence, the sentencing for murder charges will be more severe than the sentencing for manslaughter charges.

The sentencing for murder varies depending on the degree of murder.

First-degree murder: A conviction for first-degree murder carries an automatic life sentence without possibility for parole for 25 years.

Second-degree murder: A conviction for second-degree murder also carries a life sentence, but parole eligibility can be set between 10 and 25 years.

Manslaughter, on the other hand, carries no minimum sentence. Except if a firearm is used, there is a mandatory minimum sentence of four years.

How to Defend if Charged with Murder in Canada?

Being accused of murder can seem overwhelming. Just because you have been charged with murder doesn’t mean you are guilty. The first thing you have to do is keep calm. And think about how to defend the charge brought against you.

Contact an experienced criminal defence lawyer promptly. Your lawyer will carefully review the evidence, conduct an independent investigation, and challenge the prosecution’s case to establish reasonable doubt.

Present affirmative defence strategies, such as self-defence, defence of others, mental disorder, and provocation. If you could prove any of these defences, there is a likelihood that your charge may transfer from murder to manslaughter.


Knowing the difference between murder and manslaughter is crucial in the legal context. If you or someone you know is charged with murder or manslaughter, you need the guidance of a criminal defence lawyer.

A criminal defence lawyer is well-equipped to defend you against the most severe allegations. The lawyer will review your case and suggest the best plan of action. Above all, try to be calm.