Criminal Law

… a core term in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100


Pringle, writing in the Canadian Encyclopedia (reference below), describe criminal law as “a body of law that prohibits certain kinds of conduct and imposes sanctions for unlawful behaviour.”

It is one of three broad areas of law, the other two being Constitutional Law and Administrative Law.

Pringle notes that:

“In general, the prohibitions contained in criminal offences are concerned with protecting the public at large and maintaining the accepted values of society. These values include the preservation of morality (through such laws as the obscenity and prostitution offences); protection of the person (e.g., murder and assault offences); protection of property (e.g., theft and fraud offences); preservation of the public peace (e.g., incitement to riot and causing a disturbance offences); and preservation of the state (e.g., treason offences).

“Underlying the various theories explaining the purpose of criminal law is the basic premise that criminal law is a means by which society reaffirms its values and denounces violators. A change in values entails a change in the types of conduct society wishes to prohibit. Amendments to the Criminal Code in areas such as sexual offences, abortion, pornography and punishment for murder demonstrate that Canadian criminal laws develop, at least to some extent, in response to changing social values.

“… The sources of substantive criminal law in Canada are limited. Most offences are created by the Criminal Code, which prohibits conviction of an offence at common law (except for the offence of contempt of court). Criminal offences are also contained in other related federal statutes, such as the Narcotic Control Act, the Food and Drugs Act, and the Young Offenders Act.

“A number of federal offences and offences under provincial statutes (e.g., liquor and highway control offences) and municipal bylaws (e.g., parking tickets, pet control) are not criminal offences in the true sense, but are generally processed through the courts in the same general manner as criminal offences. These offences are often called “regulatory offences.”

Atlas topic, subject, and course

Courts, Tribunals, and Commissions (core topic) in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100 Governance and Institutions.


A. Pringle (2014), Criminal Law, Canadian Encyclopedia, at, accessed 7 November 2016.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified on 7 November 2016.