How Long Do the Police Have to Charge You with a Crime in Canada

How Long Do the Police Have to Charge You with a Crime in Canada

Apparently, there is no statute of limitation on time to get charged by law enforcement.

Then again, the type of crime matters. Considering that, if you committed a minor crime, generally,  the police will have 1 year to charge you.

But there are further exceptions. For instance, in Alberta, police can charge you within 6 months under the Provincial Offences Procedure Act. 

Basically, how long do the police have to charge you with a crime in Canada is centred on the severity and the province the crime took place in.

In the following sections, you will have more insight regarding getting charged and limitation periods.

Is There a Statute of Limitations for Certain Criminal Offences?

You can be charged with a crime at any time in your life.

Also, we just mentioned that the limitation period for getting charged mainly depends on the following:

  • The type of crime one has committed
  • The place a crime occurred

To get a better idea, you need to know the types of offences one can commit and the limitation period for the police to charge an individual for a certain crime.

Different Kinds of Crimes In Canada and Statute Of Limitations

In Canada, there are three kinds of crime, as follows:

1. Indictable Offences

Indictable offences are serious criminal offences that are prosecuted solely by charge. Examples include murder, kidnapping, and trafficking of controlled substances.

These offences carry severe penalties, often including life imprisonment. Indictable offences can be tried by a judge alone or by a judge and jury.

There is no specific time limit for laying charges for indictable offences. It is possible for individuals to be charged with these offences even years or decades after the occurrence of the offence.

2. Summary Conviction Offences

Summary conviction offences are less serious and intended to be resolved more swiftly.

These offences are prosecuted summarily, without the option for a jury trial. Examples include causing a disturbance or public nudity.

The maximum sentence for summary conviction offences is a $5000 fine, imprisonment for less than two years, and other sentencing options such as probation.

There is a time limit for charging individuals with pure summary conviction offences, typically set at 12 months.

3. Hybrid Offences

Hybrid offences can be prosecuted by summary conviction or indictment, depending on the prosecution’s discretion.

Factors such as the seriousness of the offence and the individual involved are considered when deciding the appropriate approach.

The prosecution determines whether to proceed summarily or by indictment, not the police who initially charge the individual.

If a hybrid offence is charged more than 12 months after the offence, the prosecution is generally barred from proceeding summarily.

However, they can proceed by indictment to bypass the limitation period.

Now, What Should You Do If You are Charged with a Criminal Offence?

If you are charged with a criminal offence, it is crucial to take appropriate steps to protect your rights. 

Check these 9 tips below to navigate such a stressful situation:

1. Seek legal representation

It is highly recommended to hire a criminal defence lawyer who is experienced in handling criminal cases. A lawyer will guide you through the legal process, provide advice, and advocate for your rights.

2. Understand Your Charges

Familiarise yourself with the specific criminal charges brought against you. Your lawyer will explain the elements of the offence, potential penalties, and any available defences.

3. Remain Silent

Exercise your right to remain silent. Avoid making statements to the police or other authorities without your lawyer present. Anything you say can be used against you, so it is important to consult with your lawyer before providing any information.

5. Gather Evidence

Work closely with your lawyer to collect any evidence that supports your defence. This may include documents, witness statements, surveillance footage, or any other relevant information that can challenge the prosecution’s case.

6. Attend Court Appearances

It is crucial to attend all scheduled court appearances as required. Failure to appear can have negative consequences and may result in additional charges.

7. Follow Legal Advice

Your lawyer will provide you with guidance and advice throughout the legal process. It is important to follow their recommendations and instructions to ensure the best possible outcome for your case.

8. Maintain Confidentiality

Keep the details of your case confidential. Discussing your case with anyone other than your lawyer can potentially harm your defence and compromise your rights.

9. Consider Bail Options

If you are in custody, your lawyer can help you explore options for bail or release pending trial. They can guide you through the bail process and present arguments to support your release.

10. Prepare for Trial

Work closely with your lawyer to prepare a strong defence strategy if your case proceeds to trial. Attend all necessary meetings and provide any requested information to support your defence.

What Should You Do If the Police Want to Speak with You?

If the police want to speak with you, it’s important to approach the situation cautiously and protect your rights.

The following tips can help if you are facing such a complicated situation.

Stay calm and composed: Remain calm and composed when interacting with the police. Avoid becoming confrontational or argumentative, as it can escalate the situation.

Ask if you are being detained or if you are free to leave: Politely inquire about your status. If you are not being detained, you have the right to leave. If you are being detained, be aware that you have certain rights that must be respected.

Understand your rights: Familiarise yourself with your rights, such as the right to remain silent and the right to have a lawyer present during questioning. The police must inform you of these rights. Exercise your right to remain silent until you have legal representation.

Request a lawyer: If the police want to question you, it is advisable to request a lawyer immediately. This ensures that you have legal counsel present to protect your interests and advise you during the questioning process.

Refrain from providing self-incriminating statements: Avoid making any statements that may be self-incriminating or harmful to your defence. Usually, it’s recommended to wait until you have consulted with a lawyer before providing any information to the police.

Document the interaction: If possible, make a mental note or write down details about the interaction, including the names and badge numbers of the officers involved. This information can be helpful later if needed.

Avoid consenting to searches: In general, it’s best to refrain from giving consent for the police to search your person, property, or vehicle unless they have a valid search warrant. If the police insist on searching, do not physically resist, but clearly state that you do not consent.

Contact a lawyer: As soon as possible, contact a criminal defence lawyer for guidance. They will advise you on how to proceed and protect your rights throughout the legal process.

Final Remark: How Long Do the Police Have to Charge You with a Crime in Canada

The time limit for the police to charge an individual with a crime in Canada varies depending on the type of offence and the province in which it occurred.

There is no specific time limit for indictable offences, which are the most serious, and charges can be brought even years or decades after the offence took place.

Summary conviction offences, which are less serious, generally have a limitation period of 12 months, but there are exceptions in certain provinces.

Hybrid offences can be prosecuted summarily or by indictment, and the decision lies with the prosecution.

If you find yourself charged with a criminal offence, it is crucial to seek legal representation from a criminal defence lawyer who can guide you through the

  • Legal process
  • Explain your charges
  • & Protect your rights

If the police want to speak with you, staying calm, ascertaining your status, and seeking a lawyer to understand your rights is advisable.

You can see that navigating the legal system can be complex, and it is essential to rely on the expertise and guidance of a qualified legal professional.


How Long Does a Police Investigation Take in Canada?

The duration of a police investigation in Canada can vary significantly depending on the case’s complexity. It may range from a few days to several months or even longer for more intricate or serious cases.

How Long Do Police Have to Charge You?

In Canada, there is no specific time limit for the police to charge an individual with a crime. The timing can depend on factors such as the offence’s nature and severity, the evidence’s availability, and the investigative process.

If Police Let You Go, Can They Charge You Later?

Yes, it is possible for the police to charge an individual later, even if they were initially let go. The absence of immediate charges does not prevent the police from pursuing the case and laying charges later, as long as they are within the applicable limitation periods.

How Long Do You Have to Press Charges in Canada?

In Canada, it is the role of the police and the prosecution to press charges, not the victim. Victims report the crime, and it is up to the authorities to decide whether to pursue charges based on the evidence and public interest. There is generally no specific time limit for victims to press charges.

How Long Do Police Have to File Charges?

The time frame for police to file charges can vary depending on the circumstances and the nature of the offence. It is generally influenced by factors such as the complexity of the case, the availability of evidence, and the workload of the police and prosecution. There is no fixed deadline for filing charges, but they should be brought within a reasonable time.

How Long Do Police Have to Lay Charges?

In Canada, there is no strict time limit for the police to lay charges against an individual. The timing can depend on various factors, including the nature and complexity of the case, the availability of evidence, and the investigative process. However, charges are generally expected to be laid within a reasonable time after the offence has been committed,

© 2022 Merv Nidesh, KC & Linh Pham.