Let’s Talk About the Canadian Criminal Code: Episode Two Section 2 (and s. 2.1) - Definitions

Welcome to episode two of the Ideablawg Podcast entitled: Let’s Talk About the Canadian Criminal Code.

Last week we discussed the short but complete section 1 “naming section.” This week we will talk about its polar opposite: the hefty yet incomplete section 2.

As discussed in the last podcast, there is a method to the madness of writing legislation. Indeed the framework or structure of a statute is not whimsical but follows certain prescribed formats. These formats may differ slightly from statute to statute and from levels of government as we learned when we talked about preambles to an act as opposed to a purpose section found within a statute. But in essentials, statutes tend to look very similar.

One of these similarities is found in section 2 of the Criminal Code – found under the interpretation segment of the Code, entitled “definitions.” These words and phrases are definitions of key terms used within the Criminal Code.

Now I called this section hefty yet incomplete. Hefty, because this section 2, which is not broken down into subsections as other sections of the Code are, provides us with a long alphabetical list of words in which some terms are defined quite lengthily. In fact, there are 73 words listed under section 2 from “Act” to “Writing.” Of the 73, 2 are repealed: the term “feeble-minded person” was repealed in 1991 and “magistrate” in 1985 as these terms are no longer used in the Criminal Code. Of course, Canada no longer has any “magistrates” as they are now known as “provincial court judges.”

The term “feeble-minded person,” however, comes from the old rape provisions in the Criminal Code, namely s.148, and came into force through the 1922 Code amendments.   It is difficult to read this old section without cringing:

s. 148. Every male person who, under circumstances that do not amount to rape, has sexual intercourse with a female person

(a) who is not his wife, and

(b) who is and who he knows or has good reason to believe is feeble-minded, insane, or is an idiot or imbecile,

is guilty of an indictable offence and is liable to imprisonment for five years.

The term also applied when considering the old insanity defence under the now amended (as of 1991 there is no insanity defence but an offender may be found NCR or “not criminally responsible” as a result of a mental disorder) s.16 of the Criminal Code. Unlike the rape provisions, this term when used in the context of insanity, applied equally to men and women. Interestingly, in the 1984 Supreme Court of Canada decision, rendered a year before the term was repealed, Justice Dickson, as he then was, in the Ogg-Moss case, agreed that the term was “somewhat disturbing to modern sensibilities” but was really equivalent to saying “mentally retarded” or “developmentally handicapped.” Of course, both of those terms today are deemed completely inappropriate as well. The term “mental disability” is now the preferred adjective. There is still a sexual offence related to this: sexual exploitation of person with mental or physical disability under s.153.1 and it applies to both men and women, married or not.

Amazing that the term, “feeble-minded person,” was only repealed in 1985.

I also call out this so-called definition section as being incomplete. Incomplete, because not all words used in the Code are defined. This has a twofold significance: as not every word which we would like to be defined is defined and not every word which is defined is found under this section.

Let's tackle the first thought: not every word we would like to be defined is defined in the Criminal Code. As we ramble through the Code, we will be faced with some crimes for which some essential elements of the prohibited act are not defined for us. At this point our only recourse is to go to the case law. Case law produced, by judges, interpret statutes together with principles found in the common law and come up with legal interpretations or definitions of the words used.   If there is no case law on the word or phrase then a lawyer is forced to be creative and come up with a definition, which they hope the trial judge will accept. To be frank, the best starting point to do this is the dictionary. How is this word defined in Webster or Oxford? Then, how is it defined in case law? In other jurisdictions? And so on. To me this is the fun part of being a lawyer – when you can be part of the creation of the law.

An example would be the phrase “planned and deliberate” under s.231(2) of the Code, which is the section outlining when murder is deemed first-degree. The term is only important for sentencing classification and comes into play only after the Crown has proved beyond a reasonable doubt the intention required for murder as found under s.229. This phrase is not defined in the Code but is neatly defined in case law to mean the follows: planned - a scheme or design previously formed, and deliberate - considered and not impulsive.

Now the second thought: not every defined word is found under this section, tells us that there are other places in the Code where words are defined. For instance, there are definitions, as referred earlier, at the beginning of some Parts of the Code such as Part VI Invasion of Privacy.

There are also definitions found within sections of the Code such as the term “crime comic” under s.163(7).

Then there are the hidden gems such as the term “negligence,” an extremely important term as it signifies the level of intention required to commit an offence and is used for one of the most serious offences in the Code s.222(5)(b) manslaughter. Yet, “negligence” is defined only by reference to a title of a section. In section 436, entitled Arson By Negligence, a fairly recent offence in the Code from 1990, the actual section setting out the crime does not use the word “negligence” but instead defines it as follows:

“Every person who owns, in whole or in part, or controls property is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years where, as a result of a marked departure from the standard of care that a reasonably prudent person would use to prevent or control the spread of fires or to prevent explosions, that person is a cause of a fire or explosion in that property that causes bodily harm to another person or damage to property.”

“As a result of a marked departure from the standard of care that a reasonably prudent person would use” is the definition, found in case law, of criminal negligence. I leave it to you to decide if this is indeed a “hidden gem” or merely another example of the complexities of our Criminal Code.

So, in the end, section 2 is not only a list of some definitions but is also a list of what is not defined in the Criminal Code.

 But of course it is not that simple.

For example, let’s look at a recent definition added to section 2 – “justice system participant.” The definition is a list of very specific categories of people who come under this term, such as under

(a) “a member of the Senate, of the House of Commons, of a legislative assembly or of a municipal council.”

Caution is required, however, as the definition is also very broad: under (b) it is also

“a person who plays a role in the administration of criminal justice.”

The definition does go on to list examples, but clearly this definition is not exhaustive. Imagine if we went to the dictionary for a definition of a word and it said etc, etc, etc.. Not overly helpful is it – so again we are down to case law and a possible argument in court in order to define the definitions and give them boundaries.

Before I close, I would like to discuss s. 2.1, which is a new section added in 2009. This section also provides us with definitions; in fact it is entitled “further definitions – firearms.” Okay, so instead of amending section 2, the government simply added a section 2.1 with firearm specific definitions.

Well, no not really.

Section 2.1 merely points us to the place where the listed terms are actually defined. The section lists words such as “ammunition” and “replica firearm” and tells us that those listed words have the same meaning as in s. 84(1). If we go to s. 84(1), we see a section defining a number of terms, including the ones listed under s. 2.1. This s. 84(1) is in fact the definition section for Part III of the Code on Firearms and Other Weapons. As mentioned earlier a Part may start with definitions of words found within the particular Part. Certainly, there are no definitions in the Code, which contradict, meaning there are no definitions of a term for one Part of the Code and then a different definition for the exact same term in another Part. So why did the government add this s. 2.1? For clarification? For extra emphasis? Why?

Well, in my view, Section 2.1 instead of clarifying actually does the reverse as it leaves the impression that if the word is only defined under a particular Part, that does not necessarily mean that word, if found elsewhere, has the same meaning.

And to make us even more confused, there is a federal statute with definitions, which apply to all federal legislation, as long as it is consistent with that legislation, called the Interpretation Act.

Now that’s confusion for you, that’s the Criminal Code for you, and that is the podcast for this week.

Next week we will discuss this Interpretation Act a bit more when we look at the last of the interpretation sections in the Code: section 3

Please note: This is the text of the Episode Two of my podcast. I do not have the audio file attached but will be sending out the actual podcast in a separate file.