Any fan of true crime shows knows that people can be charged and tried for committing crimes that took place many years (or even decades) ago. This is possible due to statutes of limitations, laws passed by the government to set the maximum time after an event within which legal proceedings may be started.
The statute of limitations is the length of time after an offense during which criminal or civil legal proceedings must be started. In Canada, statute of limitation laws for criminal offenses vary depending on the type of offense. When it comes to civil law, the laws differ by province.
Summary Conviction Offenses
All offenses in Canada may be classified as indictable offenses or summary conviction offenses. Summary conviction offenses are less serious than indictable offenses and therefore punishable by different sets of rules and regulations as well as lower sentencing guidelines. Summary conviction offenses have no right to a jury trial and/or indictment. Canada has a criminal statute of limitations only for summary conviction offenses, for example, causing a disturbance, trespassing and falsifying employment records. Under Section 786(2) of the Criminal Code of Canada, a law that codifies most criminal offenses and procedures in Canada, the statute of limitations extends for a six-month period after the criminal act was committed. After six months is up, a defendant cannot face prosecution by the Canadian government for the offense. This applies to summary criminal prosecutions in all Canadian provinces and territories.
More Serious Crimes
The Criminal Code provides no statute of limitations for anything other than a summary conviction offense. Therefore, for indictable crimes such as major theft (over $5,000), murder, kidnapping or rape, you can be charged at any point in the future. Many women who have reported sexual assault in Canada have cited incidents that took place many years previously. Regardless of the date of the offense, the police may decide to convict if the alleged perpetrator is still alive, and there is sufficient evidence to support a conviction. However, Section 11 of the Constitution Act, part of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, dictates that, after being charged, a defendant be tried within a "reasonable time." Again, this applies to indictable criminal prosecutions in all Canadian provinces and territories.
Civil Law Proceedings
Canada provides a statute of limitations for civil law matters like uncollected debt. In 2005, the Canadian Parliament amended Section 222 of the Income Tax Act to provide for a 10-year limitation period, which means a person's debt cannot legally extend beyond 10 years. However, each province has its own statute of limitations for civil proceedings, with most having a period of two years (such as Ontario, Alberta and Saskatchewan) or six years (such as British Columbia, P.E.I. and New Brunswick). Quebec is the only Canadian province with a civil statute of limitations of three years.