Murder in Canada is defined as a culpable homicide with specific intentions. It is defined by the Criminal Code, a statute passed by the Parliament of Canada and which applies uniformly across Canada.


Manslaughter is any culpable homicide which is not murder or infanticide.[


Infanticide is the killing of a newly-born child by its mother where the mother’s mind was disturbed as a result of giving birth or of consequent lactation.[


Murder occurs

  • (a) where the person who causes the death of a human being
  • means to cause his/her death, or
  • means to cause him/her bodily harm that he knows is likely to cause his/her death, and is reckless whether death ensues or not;
  • (b) where a person, meaning to cause death to a human being or meaning to cause him/her bodily harm that he/she knows is likely to cause his death, and being reckless whether death ensues or not, by accident or mistake causes death to another human being, notwithstanding that he/she does not mean to cause death or bodily harm to that human being; or
  • (c) where a person, for an unlawful object, does anything that he knows or ought to know is likely to cause death, and thereby causes death to a human being, notwithstanding that he desires to effect his object without causing death or bodily harm to any human being.

Canadian law distinguishes between justifiable, accidental and culpable homicide. If a death is deemed a culpable homicide, it generally falls under one of four categories.

First degree murder

Definition: A culpable homicide that is planned and deliberate — both aspects must be demonstrated in order for the homicide to be considered first-degree murder.

Some homicides are automatically considered first-degree murder — even if they were not intentional or planned:

  • The killing of a police officer or prison employee on duty.
  • A killing committed in the course of one of the following offences: hijacking, sexual assault, sexual assault with a weapon, aggravated sexual assault, kidnapping, forcible confinement, hostage taking, terrorism, intimidation,criminal harassment, any offence committed on behalf of a criminal organization.

Sentence: First -degree murder carries an automatic life sentence with no possibility of parole for 25 years. Offenders who are paroled remain on parole for the rest of their life, even after their release from prison, meaning they must report to a parole officer and are subject to the conditions of their parole. If they break the conditions of their release, they are sent directly back to prison without a hearing.

Second-degree murder

Definition: A deliberate killing carried out without planning that does not fall under any of the categories of first degree murder.

Sentence: The minimum sentence is life in prison with no parole for 10 years, but sentences can be as long as life in prison without parole for 25 years. The date of parole eligibility is at the judge’s discretion.


Definition: A homicide committed without the intention to cause death, although there may have been an intention to cause harm. There are two broad categories of manslaughter:

Unlawful act — when a person commits a crime that unintentionally results in the death of another person. For example, an individual punches someone in the face, and that person dies of his or her injuries, or someone fires their gun carelessly in public and unintentionally shoots a bystander.

Criminal negligence — when the homicide was the result of an act or a failure to act that showed wanton or reckless disregard for the lives of others. An act is generally considered negligent if a reasonable person would have foreseen that the action would endanger a life. A failure to act can only be considered negligence if a person had a duty imposed by law to act — it does not apply, for example, to bystanders who see a person in distress and don’t help.

In some instances, a murder charge may be reduced to manslaughter if alcohol or other substances are found to have impaired the mental faculties of the perpetrator or if the homicide was committed in the heat of passion resulting from provocation, which is defined as a wrongful act or insult that would deprive an ordinary person of the power of self-control.