Updates to the Code: Whenever the government wants to amend the Criminal Code, they create an amending act, which has to pass through three readings in the House and Commons. Most amendments are brought about due to changes in societal values. The public can track what amendments are being considered and at what stage they are in the judicial process.
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How is the Criminal Code updated?
Since the Criminal Code became law more than 100 years ago, it has frequently been updated to reflect societal changes. When the federal government wants to make changes to the Code, it will create an amending act or regulation. The amending act will add new sections or make changes to existing sections of the Code. Any of these acts must be passed by all branches of Parliament.
See Upcoming Amendments
New criminal law bills are considered by Parliament as the government responds to legal issues facing Canadians.
Visit (Proposed Legislation - Canada's System of Justice) to monitor what amendments are currently being considered by Parliament. This page also shows what amendments have been added to the Code. For example, in late 2021, Bill C-3 received Royal Assent. It is intended to "enhance protections for health care workers during the COVID-19 pandemic by making it a crime to intimidate or obstruct anyone entering a health-care facility.
In June 2022, s.33.1 of the Criminal Code was amended. According to information from the government (Changes to section 33.1 of the Criminal Code on self-induced extreme intoxication,) this amendment came after two rulings from the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) found "that the section of the Criminal Code that prevented the use of the extreme intoxication defence for most crimes of violence was unconstitutional." It adds that the Code was amended to "ensure that individuals who voluntarily consume intoxicants in a criminally negligent manner, become extremely intoxicated, lose control and harm others are held criminally responsible."
Why the Code Gets Amended
The Criminal Code is updated to keep up with technological, social and economic changes in the country. For example, in 2022, the Code was amended (Proposed changes to Canada's Criminal Code relating to conversion therapy) to include four new provisions banning conversion therapy.
The Code is also amended to make the judicial process function better. In February 2022, Bill S-4 was introduced in the Senate, proposing "a number of targeted changes to the Criminal Code that would give courts increased flexibility in how they hold criminal proceedings and issue orders." This would include allowing for an expansion of virtual testimony and full trials and an "enhanced use of technology to draw the names of prospective jurors."
Frequency of Amendments
Information from the Department of Justice (Justice Laws Website) notes that the websites dealing with acts and regulations are "generally updated every two weeks." But amendments to the Code can be much slower.
For example, laws on abortion were declared unconstitutional in 1988 after Henry Morgentaler's victory at the SCC. The court found that federal abortion law were unconstitutional, thereby decriminalizing the procedure. But 30 years later, laws against "procuring miscarriage" could still be found in the Code along with the maximum penalty of life imprisonment for offenders, though they were not enforced. In 2019, s.287 was finally removed from the Act.
The same response can be seen with laws around anal intercourse. Laws dealing with this activity remained in the Code long after courts ruled they violated equality rights because they treated consensual anal intercourse differently from other consensual sexual activities. Those convicted of engaging in the act faced a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison unless it was "between husband and wife, or any two persons, each of whom is 18 years of age or more." The age of consent for all other sex acts is 16. In 2019, provisions against anal intercourse in s.159 were removed.