Being a party to an offence

What are the consequences in Canada for someone who unwittingly assists in committing a crime?

Being a party to an offence

This article was provided by dNovo Group.

Under Canadian criminal law, an individual who helps or assists in committing a crime may be considered a “party to an offence." But what does this mean, and what are the consequences for someone who unwittingly becomes a party to a crime?

What is a party to an offence?

Canadian law holds individuals accountable for their actions but understands that not everyone is alike. Therefore, the law offers a framework that recognizes the spectrum of involvement in criminality to ensure individuals are held accountable for their actions to a reasonable and appropriate degree.

Being party to an offence means that individuals are held criminally responsible for a crime, even if they did not commit it themselves. For instance, someone driving the getaway car after a bank robbery may be found guilty of the same offences as the individuals committing the burglary.

Section 21 of the Criminal Code of Canada provides more information on who might be deemed a party to an offence, specifically, someone who does or omits to do anything to aid or abet a person in committing a crime.

Does presence at a crime scene matter?

An individual’s presence and non-interference at a crime scene are usually insufficient to warrant a charge of being a party to a crime, according to Jillian Williamson, criminal lawyer from Alberta Legal. In some cases, individuals, such as medical professionals, must act. However, they do not usually become party to an offence if they fail to act.

Aiding vs. abetting a crime and common intention

One of the critical parts of understanding being party to an offence is knowing what constitutes aiding a crime and what is seen as abetting a crime.

Aiding a crime

Section 21(1)(b) of the Criminal Code states that a person who takes action or fails to take action to aid another person in executing a criminal offence is also a party to that same offence.

Courts will seek to determine the accused's knowledge before deciding guilt or innocence. For example, someone who lends someone something later used as a weapon without the individual's knowledge that it will be used in a crime may not be found guilty.

Abetting a crime

Meanwhile, under Section 21(1)(c) of the Criminal Code, anyone who abets a person in committing an offence is considered a party to the same offence.

Abetting a criminal occurs when an individual encourages, instigates, or promotes a crime to be committed. In short, they will have enabled the offender to commit the criminal act.

Common intention

Where two or more persons form a common intention to carry out an offence and assist each other in the crime, both may be found guilty, says Fisnik Pllana from Forum Law, Alberta-based law firm. This is because both offenders should have known that the offence was unlawful.

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