History of Criminal Justice System in Canada

History of Criminal Justice System in Canada Featured Image

Maybe you want to gain trust in the Canadian criminal justice system. Or maybe you want a broader understanding of Canada’s current policies and practices.

For either of these reasons—this discussion on the history of the criminal justice system will let you know how our criminal justice system has evolved to maintain peace and safety.

The criminal justice system is the foundation of our democracy. With the help of the entire system, you can:

  • Uphold the rule of law
  • Protect your rights
  • Get compensation
  • & Make amendments

Read till the end to know how Canadian criminal justice system has evolved day by day.

Evolution of Canadian Justice System: Get an Overview

The criminal justice system has evolved over several centuries. Fairly the criminal justice system in Canada has a long and complex history.

Besides, it changed over time as a response to overseeing prevalent social, economic, and political circumstances.

Take a look at the key milestones in the Canadian criminal justice system below:

Colonial Times

First, in the 17th century, the French established Canada’s formal criminal justice system. And it was based on the Napoleonic Code. Note that this code strongly emphasizes written laws and legal codes.

Later, the British took over Canada. In those early years, the British system relied on common law and court rulings. Therefore, the Canadian criminal justice system was largely based on the English common law system.

The common law system involved:

  • Trial by jury
  • Presumption of innocence
  • Right to legal representation

During the colonisation of North America, the British introduced such a system. As a result, the system became more and more similar to the British.

Early 20th Century

During this time, the Canadian government established a more centralised justice system. So, in 1892, the Criminal Code of Canada came into play. To shape the criminal justice system better, along with the Criminal Code of Canada, the government established Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) as well.

Next, in 1906, Canada passed the Juvenile Delinquents Act, which dealt with young offenders. And this legislation recognizes that laws should not treat youngsters as adult offenders. Therefore, the justice system introduced rehabilitation rather than punishment.

Also, the early 20th century saw the development of the parole system. This system allows releasing criminals from prison before serving their full sentence but with specific conditions. And this encourages both the system and the offenders to rehabilitation. As a result, the government could avoid overcrowding in prisons.

However, criminal justice in the 20th century was far from perfect. For instance, indigenous people and minorities faced unfair and systemic discrimination. Moreover, the system was criticised for being too focused on punishment eventually rather than rehabilitation.

Regardless of these criticisms, the Canadian justice system developed significantly in the early 20th century.

Mid 20th Century

In the mid-20th century, the government released the Canadian Bill of Rights. The Canadian Bill of Rights was a federal statute passed by the Canadian Parliament in 1960. This was designed to protect basic human rights and freedoms for all Canadians.

Also, the Bill of Rights represented an important step towards recognizing and protecting individual rights and freedoms in Canada. Furthermore, it was an important precursor to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms enacted in 1982.

The Canadian Bill of Rights includes several key provisions, including the recognition of the right to:

  • Life
  • Liberty
  • Security of the person
  • Equal protection and benefit of the law
  • Freedom of thought, belief, opinion, and expression

Besides, the Bill of Rights also guarantees fundamental rights and freedoms related to religion, peaceful assembly, and association.

Additionally, one of the key features of the Canadian Bill of Rights is that it applies to all levels of government in Canada. That means it applies to federal and provincial/territorial laws and policies. And this was an important step towards ensuring individual rights and freedoms across the country.

However, the Canadian Bill of Rights had its limitations. Unlike the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Bill of Rights did not have constitutional status. That means it could be repealed or amended by Parliament at any time. Additionally, the Bill of Rights did not apply to private individuals or organizations. So, it is necessary to challenge discriminatory practices in the private sector.

Despite its limitations, the Canadian Bill of Rights represented an important milestone in protecting individual rights and freedoms in Canada. Its legacy can still be felt today in the form of the Charter, which builds upon the foundation established by the Bill of Rights to provide even stronger protections for individual rights and freedoms in Canada.

Community-Based Sentencing

Another major change in the system was—community-based sentencing options in the 1960s and 1970s. And diversion programs are designed to divert offenders from the criminal justice system. And it focuses on community-based programs that can address underlying issues that may have contributed to their criminal behaviour.

These programs may include counselling, education, or job training. Diversion programs have been used in various contexts, including youth justice, drug offences, and mental health issues.

These options were created as an alternative punishment to imprisonment. So, those are just another way to promote rehabilitation and reintegration into society.

Late 20th Century and Beyond

The Canadian criminal justice system has continued to evolve ever since. In addition to the Canadian Bill of  Rights and Criminal Code

Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom

In 1982, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was introduced. This law enshrined a range of fundamental rights and freedoms in the constitution. These include:

  • Right to free trials
  • Legal representation
  • Protections against unreasonable search and seizure

For this Charter, the individual gets fair treatment. Consequently, the Charter has always profoundly impacted the criminal justice system.

Increased Attention toward Marginalised Communities

Also, in the mid-20th century, the criminal justice system gave more attention to the marginalised communities. For example, the Report of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada in 1970 highlighted how women faced discrimination within the legal system.

Also, the report recommends a range of reforms. That includes:

  • Rape crisis center establishment
  • Inclusion of more women in the legal profession

Report of the Commission on Systemic Racism

Similarly, in 1995, the Report of the Commission on Systemic Racism in the Ontario Criminal Justice System highlighted how black and indigenous people were overrepresented in the criminal justice system. Consequently, they are subjected to systemic discrimination. Moreover, the report made a range of recommendations, including:

  • Establishing a civilian oversight body to investigate complaints against a police officer
  • Creating cultural awareness training for justice system professionals

Overall, the mid 20 century was a significant reform and modernization period for the Canadian criminal justice system.

Restorative Justice

Another major change was the increased focus on restorative justice. Restorative justice emphasises repairing the harm caused by criminal behaviour rather than simply punishing offenders.

This approach involves bringing together offenders, victims, and community members to resolve the harm caused by the offence. In addition, Restorative justice was used in various contexts, including youth justice and cases of minor offences.

Final Notes: History of Criminal Justice System

Today at the federal level, the Department of Justice oversees the system responsible for developing and implementing criminal law and justice policies. For example, the RCMP is a federal law enforcement agency responsible for enforcing federal laws and supporting provincial and territorial police services.

At the provincial and territorial levels, justice is administered by various institutions and agencies:

  • Courts
  • Prosecutors
  • Defence lawyers
  • And correctional facilities

On the other hand, provincial and territorial police services are responsible for enforcing laws within their jurisdictions and often work closely with federal agencies like the RCMP.

The criminal justice system in Canada is constantly evolving in response to new challenges and changing societal attitudes toward crime and punishment. For example, recent years have seen increased attention to issues like:

  • Mental health
  • Addiction
  • And homelessness

Besides, addressing these issues within the criminal justice system has become a priority. Additionally, technology and globalisation have created new challenges related to cybercrime and international organised crime, requiring innovative investigation and prosecution approaches.

Then, efforts to address systemic issues like racism and discrimination within the criminal justice system have become more important in recent years.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada was established to address the:

  • Legacy of residential schools
  • Treatment of Indigenous people in Canada

These again made several recommendations related to the criminal justice system, including the need for culturally appropriate justice services and greater representation of Indigenous people in the legal profession.

Today, the criminal justice system in Canada is dynamic and multifaceted, involving different levels of government and various institutions and agencies. And it is constantly evolving in response to new challenges and changing societal attitudes toward crime and punishment.


Check the following question to get relevant information about our criminal justice system.

What Do You Do When Someone Accuses You of Something You Didn’t Do?

First, you should stay calm. Otherwise, you will get even more tangled in the case! To handle a false acquisition case, you should hire an expert lawyer. Next, with the help of your lawyer, you gather evidence to challenge the credibility of the accusation made against you and develop a strong defence to get out of the case.

How Do You Deal with False Accusations?

False acquisitions are frustrating and stressful, so first, try not to panic or get angry. Instead, accept the current situation and try to defend yourself. To do that, you can consult a criminal defence lawyer to review the situation and build a solid defence strategy.

How to Prove Innocence When Falsely Accused?

With the help of a lawyer, you can prove your innocence by presenting different kinds of evidence, such as witness testimony, phone records, employment records, bank account details, surveillance camera footage, multimedia, DNA evidence, etc.

What to Do When Someone Makes False Accusations against You?

You can prove your innocence with proper evidence. Hence, you must work with an experienced lawyer to build your best defence strategy. Alongside, you must maintain your innocence by remaining calm, sticking to the fact, and avoiding admitting calm.

© 2022 Merv Nidesh, KC & Linh Pham.