What is the difference between criminal and civil court?

Criminal law deals with acts that violate the Criminal Code and other federal statutes. Civil law deals with disputes between private parties.

Criminal Law

Criminal acts are those that go against the rules of the Criminal Code or against another federal statute. In Canada, a criminal act is legally seen as an offence against the state, even though there may have been a specific individual who was the victim of the crime.

Common Criminal Code offences include:

  • Assault
  • Impaired driving
  • Break and enter
  • Robbery

Read more about going to criminal court, including how to prepare for the trial and the typical roles in the criminal justice system.

Civil Law

Civil law deals with disputes between private parties or or negligent acts that cause harm to others.

Common civil suits include disputes about:

  • The terms of a contract
  • Damage or injuries
  • Property
  • Reputation

Depending on your case, you may wish to solve the problem outside of court through alternative dispute resolution. Read questions to ask yourself before you sue.

Read more about going to civil court, including an overview of the process and the typical roles in the civil justice system.

Getting Help

The Ministry of the Attorney General can help you:

  • Find a lawyer
  • Get information about tickets, fines, lawsuits and disputes
  • Find out what your human rights are

Visit their website, Justice Ontario, or call 1-866-252-0104 for legal information in over 170 different languages.

Settlement agencies can help you get the information you need. To find help, go to Services Near Me and search for "settlement agency" in your area.

For More Information

  • Criminal and Civil Law - An overview of the differences between these 2 types of law in Canada. From the Canadian Superior Court Judges Association.
  • Criminal Law Resources - A collection of frequently-asked-questions and links. From the Ministry of the Attorney General.
  • LawFacts.ca - This website has information about going to criminal court in Ontario. It covers many topics and you can download forms and checklists. From Legal Aid Ontario.
  • Family Law Resources - A collection of frequently-asked-questions and links. From the Ministry of the Attorney General.
  • Teenagers and Criminal Law - This website gives information about the Youth Criminal Justice Act. It was written for people who are under 18 years old and gives general information about your rights.
  • What Can Happen if Permanent Resident is Convicted of a Crime - This fact sheet explains how being convicted of a crime in Canada can affect your status as a permanent resident.
Last updated: September 16, 2015 4000351