Homicide is the killing of another person. In Canada, homicide can be classified as either culpable or non-culpable. Culpable homicide is where the person who committed the homicide did so with the intention to kill or with criminal negligence (i.e. doing something without regard to a serious risk of harm). Non-culpable homicide is where the person who committed the homicide did so without the intention to kill and without criminal negligence. While culpable homicide is a criminal offence, non-culpable homicide is not.

There are three main types of homicide in Canadian criminal law: murder, manslaughter, and infanticide. There are also other related offences, including attempted murder and accessory after the fact to murder.

Murder: Intentional, Culpable Homicide

In Canadian criminal law, murder is defined as the unlawful killing of a human being with intent. To be convicted of murder, the Crown (the prosecution) must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused intended to kill the victim.

A culpable homicide is classified as murder when:

  1. The accused means to cause the victim’s death or means to cause them bodily harm that the accused knows is likely to cause death and is reckless whether death occurs or not;
  2. The accused means to cause someone’s death or bodily harm but accidentally or mistakenly kills another person;
  3. While pursuing an unlawful goal, the accused does something that causes a person’s death and that they know could cause a person’s death, even if they prefer not to cause death or bodily harm while pursuing the unlawful goal.

There are two types of murder in Canadian law: first degree murder and second degree murder.

First Degree Murder

First degree murder is the most serious type of murder as it is “planned and deliberate” (section 231(2) of the Criminal Code of Canada). Certain acts automatically qualify as first degree murder under the Criminal Code, including:

  • Is it done in exchange for money or anything else of value (i.e. a contract killing);
  • The victim is a police officer, police constable, constable, sheriff, deputy sheriff, sheriff’s officer, or other type of peace officer, acting in the course of their duties;
  • The victim is a warden, deputy warden, instructor, keeper, jailer, guard, or other officer or permanent employee of a prison, acting in the course of their duties;
  • The victim is a person working in a prison with the permission of the prison authorities and is acting in the course of their duties;
  • The killing occurs for the benefit of, or at the direction of, a criminal organization; or
  • The death is caused while the accused is committing or attempting to commit:
    • The hijacking of an aircraft;
    • Sexual assault, sexual assault with a weapon, or aggravated sexual assault;
    • Kidnapping and forcible confinement;
    • A hostage taking;
    • Criminal harassment or criminal intimidation, as defined under the Criminal Code; or
    • A terrorist act.

First-degree murder is punishable by life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years.

Second Degree Murder

Any intentional homicide that does not qualify as first degree murder is automatically categorized as second degree murder. Second degree murder is homicide that is committed intentionally but is not premeditated or planned.

Second degree murder is punishable by life in prison with a possibility of parole after 10 years. While the penalties for second degree murder are not as severe as those for first degree murder, it is still a very serious crime.

Attempted Murder

Attempted murder (or “attempt to commit murder”) is an indictable offence under the Criminal Code of Canada. Any form of attempted murder can carry the risk of life imprisonment.

There are also mandatory minimum sentences for attempted murder, as follows:

  • If a restricted or prohibited firearm was used in the commission of the offence: a minimum of five years imprisonment for the first offence and seven years for any subsequent offence;
  • If the attempted murder was committed for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with a criminal organization: a minimum of five years imprisonment for the first offence and seven years for any subsequent offence; and
  • In any other case where a firearm is used: a minimum of four years imprisonment.

Accessory After the Fact to Murder

An accessory after the fact to murder is a person who, knowing that a person has been party to an offence, receives, comforts, or assists that person to help them escape the legal consequences of the crime (usually arrest). Some examples of being an accessory after the fact to murder include:

  • Hiding the person committing the original crime (the principal offender);
  • Concealing evidence from authorities;
  • Giving false information or a fake alibi to the authorities;
  • Helping the principal offender escape by giving them information or transportation.

Being an accessory after the fact to murder is an indictable offence and can carry a penalty of up to life imprisonment.

Manslaughter: Unintentional, Culpable homicide

Manslaughter is a less serious type of homicide. It is characterized as the killing of another person without the intention to kill. Similar to second degree murder, it is defined by what it is not. Section 234 of the Criminal Code defines manslaughter as “culpable homicide that is not murder or infanticide”.

Culpable homicide, which would otherwise be categorized as murder, may be downgraded to manslaughter if the offender committed the act in the heat of passion caused by sudden provocation.

Manslaughter is an indictable offence that carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. If a firearm was used in the commission of the offence, manslaughter carries a minimum sentence of four years.


The act of infanticide occurs when a woman, not fully recovered from the effects of giving birth to her child and with a disturbed mind, kills her newly-born child by a wilful act or omission.

Infanticide can be an indictable offence, punishable by up to five years in prison. It can also be a summary conviction offence, which may carry a lesser punishment.

Contact Hicks Adams in Toronto for Leading Criminal Defence Services

As one of Canada’s largest criminal law firms, Hicks Adams is well-equipped to defend clients against the most serious allegations. Our highly experienced team of criminal lawyers has a reputation for excellence in advocating for clients against murder, attempted murder and manslaughter charges. We have a record for success in even the most challenging murder cases and proudly serve clients in Toronto and throughout Ontario. To schedule a confidential consultation on your criminal law case, contact us online or by phone at 416-975-1700 (toll-free at 1-877-975-1700).