In the last edition of this column, I described how Canada’s Courts are structured in a hierarchy and how the Supreme Court of Canada is at the top of the hierarchy. Underneath the Supreme Court, there is a Federal Court system and 13 other systems, one within each Canadian Province and Territory. Remember that the Territorial and Provincial Court systems are not a step below the Federal Court system in this hierarchy, both systems sit at the same level, but have jurisdiction over different areas of the law.
In my last column, I wrote about the Federal Court system. Alberta’s Court system is composed of Provincial Court, the Court of Queen’s Bench, and the Alberta Court of Appeal. In this article, I will discuss Provincial Court.
Provincial Court is known as the inferior Court. Decisions made by Provincial Court can be appealed to the Court of Queen’s Bench, which is known as the Superior Court.
The Provincial government appoints Provincial Court Judges while the Federal government appoints Judges to the Court of Queen’s Bench. Provincial Court can be divided into 5 areas: Civil, Criminal, Youth, Traffic and Family.
Civil – Civil matters include things like breach of contract, the loss or destruction of property due to another person’s negligence, personal injuries suffered due another’s negligence, and the collection of outstanding debts. Landlord-tenant matters also fall under this heading. All Civil matters that involve claims for less than $25,000.00 can be heard in the Provincial Court’s Civil Claim Division.
Criminal – Provincial Courts have jurisdiction to try most serious criminal offences (these are called indictable offences) and all less serious matters (called summary offences). Further, there is an intermediate category of offences called hybrid offences where the Crown Prosecutor gets to elect whether to proceed by way of indictment or by summary conviction.
Provincial Court is also where accused persons first appear to enter a plea (guilty or not guilty), where show cause hearings are held (preceding the trial, to determine whether an accused should get out on bail) and where preliminary inquiries take place on certain indictable offences (to determine whether enough evidence exists to hold a criminal trial in the Superior Court).
Provincial Court has exclusive jurisdiction to try some indictable matters like theft of money or goods (other than cattle) valued at less than $5,000.00, breach of probation, and possession of less than 3 kg of cannabis for the purposes of trafficking. In other words, if a not guilty plea is entered, the trial must be held in Provincial Court and the accused does not have the right to be tried in the Court of Queen’s Bench.
For most other indictable offences, an accused individual has the option to elect whether they want to be tried in Provincial Court or whether they would like to be tried in Queen’s Bench Court.
Some less serious crimes always proceed by way of summary conviction in Provincial Court. These include things like fraudulently obtaining food or beverage (a.k.a the dine and dash), causing a disturbance, harassing telephone calls, and unlawful possession of less than 30 g of cannabis.
Youth – Provincial Court deals with almost all Criminal Code offences committed by youths aged 12 to 17.
Traffic – Obviously this area covers traffic tickets. Though it also includes other offences created pursuant to provincial statutes, municipal bylaws and even some specific federal statutes.
Family – One can bring actions in Provincial Court for things like child support, spousal support, custody and access issues, and emergency protection orders. Divorce, and matters related to divorce, such as orders for support under the Divorce Act, are dealt with solely in Queen’s Bench Court.
In the next edition of this column, I will complete our discussion about the structure of Canada’s Courts system, by looking at the role of Alberta’s Court of Queen’s Bench and the Alberta Court of Appeal.