Criminal law in Ontario is split between two courts: the Ontario Court of Justice and the Superior Court of Justice. The Superior Court of Justice is a higher court than the Ontario Court of Justice, though both deal with similar matters.
In the world of criminal law, an individual’s matter moves through the court system pursuant to an official document. In the Ontario Court of Justice, this document is called an “information”. An information is a charging document that specifies who the accused is, what they were charged with, and the date of the offence. The information is sworn by an informant before a justice of the peace or provincial court judge. This informant either has personal knowledge of the alleged act, or has reasonable grounds to believe the alleged act occurred. Commonly, police officers are the ones to swear informations. A person’s information is present at all of their court appearances, and includes new developments in the case, as they happen.
For criminal matters, the Ontario Court of Justice also encompasses Youth Court, Community Treatment Court (also know as Mental Health Court), and Drug Treatment Court. The Ontario Court of Justice also addresses matters in POA (Provincial Offences Act) Court, which can be quasi-criminal in nature, such as traffic or municipal violations.
The individual who presides over matters in the Ontario Court of Justice is either a judge or a justice of the peace. Judges have the power to decide the outcome of trials, and make rulings on sentencing. All judges were lawyers previous to becoming judges. Justices of the peace hold a similar role, but do not necessarily have lawyering experience.
Unlike in civil proceedings, criminal matters are between the accused and the state, or representative of the state. The representative of the state is called the Crown. The Crown, or Assistant Crown Attorney, is a direct representation of a specific province or territory, and handles criminal cases on behalf of the Ministry of the Attorney General. They are called “Crowns” because they represent our official head of state, Queen Elizabeth II, and are found at both the Ontario Court of Justice and the Superior Court of Justice.
In the United States, the equivalent of a Crown would be called a “prosecutor”. There are also prosecutors in Canada, both at the federal and provincial levels. Federal prosecutors handle cases on behalf of the Department of Justice, and deal with matters that include tax and drug offences. Prosecutors can also handle matters that fall under certain Ontario-only legislation, such as The Highway Traffic Act.
All Crowns or prosecutors are either lawyers or students articling (completing the lawyer licensing process) with the Crown’s Office. A Crown’s duty is to act in the interests of the jurisdiction, meaning they pursue the case against the accused. Crowns review police disclosure (evidence) and decide whether or not it is appropriate to lay charges against the individual accused of misconduct. The Crown does not specifically investigate cases, but may request further investigation from police services.
The Ontario Court of Justice does not solely deal with criminal matters. It also has the power to handle family matters under the Children’s Law Reform Act and Family Law Act.