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What Are The Different Types of Murder Charges in Canada?

As far as criminal offences go, none garners quite the same level of attention as murder.

But when it comes to the details and differences between the various types of murder charges in Canada, there is often a lot of confusion. What is the difference between first- and second-degree murder? Where does manslaughter fit in? And what are the sentencing particularities of each? Below is your comprehensive guide to the types of murder charges in Canada.

What is Homicide?

According to the Criminal Code of Canada, there are two types of homicide: non-culpable and culpable. Non-culpable homicide is not a criminal offence. It covers death resulting from self-defence and justified uses of force by police or military.

Culpable homicide is committed when a person causes, directly or indirectly, the death of another via an unlawful act. There are four types of culpable homicide in Canada: first-degree murder, second-degree murder, manslaughter, and infanticide. For the purposes of this article, we will focus on the first three.

What is the difference between first- and second-degree murder?

Without an in-depth understanding of the Criminal Code, the difference between first- and second-degree murder can feel quite confusing. However, in reality, the difference is far less complex than it may initially seem.

Murder is considered first-degree murder when it is planned and deliberate.

Additionally, contracted murder in which money or anything of value passes, is intended to pass, or is promised from one person to another in exchange for that individual or individuals causing (or assisting in causing) the death of another person is also first-degree murder.

There are, however, a series of exceptions to the “planned and deliberate” caveat. Whether the murder is planned and deliberate or not, when the victim is one of the following, the resulting charge is automatically first-degree murder:

  • a member of law enforcement, acting in the course of duty; or
  • an employee of a prison, acting in the course of duty.

A charge of first-degree murder is also automatic when the death is caused while that person is committing or attempting to commit an offence such as:

  • hijacking an aircraft;
  • sexual assault (with or without a weapon);
  • aggravated sexual assault;
  • kidnapping and forcible confinement; or
  • hostage-taking.

First-degree murder carries the mandatory sentence of life imprisonment without parole for 25 years.

Conversely, second-degree murder is all murder that is not first-degree murder. Second-degree murder is committed with intent but without premeditation. If the intent is to cause bodily harm knowing it may result in death, or the intent to cause death occurs in the midst of a heated argument, the resulting charge may be second-degree murder.

Second-degree murder also carries a mandatory life sentence, however, eligibility for parole may vary.

It can be difficult to understand the complexities that differentiate the different types of murder charges in Canada. If you or a loved one are looking for legal advice, contact the criminal defence lawyers at Epstein and Associates.

What is manslaughter?

Manslaughter is classified as a homicide but what separates it from first- and second-degree murder lies in the intent behind the act. Manslaughter is committed when death occurs as a result of an unlawful act but without the intention to cause death.

In some cases, a murder charge may be reduced to manslaughter if it is found to have been committed in the heat of passion and/or caused by sudden provocation. Sudden provocation means that the actions of the victim are of such a nature that any ordinary person would be deprived of the power of self-control.

Manslaughter does not carry a mandatory life sentence. Sentencing and parole eligibility will vary.

Summary of the different types of murder charges in Canada

For simplicity, we can define and differentiate between murder and manslaughter as follows:

First-degree murder is the planned and deliberate death of another person.
Second-degree murder is murder that is not planned but is deliberate.
Manslaughter is the death of another person that is neither planned nor deliberate, but results from the actions of the accused.

First-degree murder is the most serious homicide charge and comes with the stiffest punishment. Regardless of which charge an individual faces, a strong legal defence is crucial and can mean a substantial difference in years or even decades of incarceration. If you or a loved one faces a murder charge in Canada, it is imperative that you seek legal advice immediately.

At Epstein & Associates, our Criminal Defense Lawyers will provide you with the help and guidance you need. With broad and deep experience in criminal law, we believe our lawyers are among the best criminal defence lawyers in the region.


This blog is made available by the law firm publisher, Epstein & Associates, for educational purposes. It provides general information and a general understanding of the law but does not provide specific legal advice. Any specific questions about your legal concerns please contact us now and speak to an expert today.