Petty crimes, major consequences: how summary offences can leave a lasting record

It is semi-common knowledge that offenses in Canada can be divided into two broad categories: Summary and Indictable. Summary offenses are the less serious of the two as they can be dealt with ‘summarily’, meaning that there are standard punishments generally meted out for such crimes and these punishments are less severe, matching the nature of the crimes themselves. But there the simplicity ends, as there is much confusion about what constitutes a summary offense, and what ramifications summary offenses can have on an offender’s future.

Summary offenses 101

Here are some basic facts about summary conviction offenses in Canada:

  • They can fall under either Federal or provincial/territorial jurisdiction
  • Examples of these relatively minor offenses can include petty theft, trespass, harassment and causing a disturbance
  • The maximum penalty for a summary offense is 6 months in prison, a $5,000 fine, or both
  • There is a 6 month statute of limitations for being charged with a summary conviction
  • Police need a warrant for a summary conviction arrest, unless you are caught in the act
  • You do not have to submit to fingerprinting if your offense is a summary one
  • Summary offenses can be fought all the way to the Supreme Court, although this rarely occurs; they are initially always tried in a provincial court
  • You are eligible for a criminal pardon (record suspension) 5 years after your sentence has been fully served as long as you have stayed out of trouble during that time.

To further muddy the waters, though, there are some summary offenses that are considered to be more serious, such as driving under the influence, sexual assault, and theft under $5000. For crimes like these, the Crown gets to decide whether to prosecute the offense as a summary conviction or as an indictable offense. Not only do indictable offenses carry stiffer penalties upon conviction, they also typically involve a lengthier procedure (for example, a jury trial) and you cannot be represented by a paralegal for these offenses. Needless to say, hybrid offenses require fingerprinting – which means that even if you are later tried under summary conviction for that offense, your fingerprints will still remain on file.

Reduce the fallout from summary offenses

If you’ve read this with a sigh of relief, knowing that your summary offense was discharged with a diversion program, you should know that that may not be the end of it: a criminal check may still reveal court or police records that indicate you were taken in on a charge. This sort of thing can be very confounding to prospective employers, who may not be able to see or understand the nature of the charges (some offenses are still described in old-fashioned language – “inmate of a common bawdy house”, for example, is a summary offense related to prostitution) but the mere presence of an encounter with police will be off-putting enough to make some employers completely disregard your job application out of hand. And American border officials don’t need to see a criminal conviction to spot an arrest record and decide to deny you entry to the United States.

If you’re in doubt as to whether your summary convictions are still on your record, and whether they can come back to haunt you in the future, contact us today, before any more damage is done. We can help you discover whether that ‘minor’ crime is having major hidden consequences in your life – and if so, help you clear your record once and for all.

Call TOLL FREE 1-888-890-1321

or fill out the online inquiry below and have a qualified agent help you see if you are eligible to clear your criminal record with a Pardon, or gain access to the United States with an Entry Waiver.

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