The Elements of a Crime You Need to Know

There are some critical elements to every criminal case in Canada, although some crimes require additional components. The elements of a crime include actus reus, mens rea, and causation. We’ll discuss each element in this article and explain their importance when navigating Canada’s legal system. 

If you’re facing criminal charges in Canada, you should schedule a meeting with criminal lawyers in Toronto. A criminal lawyer will assess your case’s facts and provide legal advice to ensure their clients are not convicted or receive a reduced charge.

Elements of a Crime

In Canada, crimes are not broken down into misdemeanours and felonies like in other countries. However, the prosecution must prove the guilt of a suspect by demonstrating that the elements of a crime exist in the alleged crime, including:

  •         The act or conduct –actus reus
  •         The suspect’s mental state at the time of the action –mens rea;
  •         The causation between the criminal act and the consequences.
  1. Actus Reus (Conduct)

Actus Reus is Latin for “guilty act,” referring to committing a criminal offense. The law doesn’t recognize the thought of committing a crime as a criminal act. In other words, a suspect has to execute a certain action that would be considered a crime in that jurisdiction.

For instance, if you plan to rob a bank, you’ve not yet committed a crime because you haven’t acted on the plan (action). On the other hand, you’ll be considered to have committed a crime if you walk into a bank and demand money from a teller while brandishing a gun. That act constitutes actus reus, and you may face robbery charges.

Sometimes the lack of action may be considered a criminal act. The omission of an act only applies to situations where a suspect was expected to act. This typically occurs during rescue missions–when you can save a life without putting endangering your life. Besides the common example of a drowning person while someone is nearby, common cases of unlawfully failing to act include tax evasion, alimony, child support, or failing to support your children. 

Although thought is not considered a crime, words can, and this is an exception to the rule that crimes are committed through physical actions. Conspiracy and solicitation comprise actus reus, although they do not involve physical action– a good example is a conspiracy to commit murder.

  1. Mens Rea (Intent)

Mens rea is Latin for intent to commit a crime or guilty mind. Mens Rea refers to a suspect’s mental state when committing a crime. The prosecution must not only prove that the suspect committed an offence but intended to commit the alleged crime to sustain a conviction. However, the suspect might still be convicted even if the prosecution cannot prove intent, either because the suspect isn’t capable of criminal intent or they were unaware of the consequences of their actions. For instance, involuntary manslaughter attracts conviction, but the sentence for this type of crime is typically less harsh. The types of mens rea include:

  •         General intent;
  •         Specific intent;
  •         Motive, and
  •         Knowledge or awareness.

General Intent

General intent refers to criminal offences that do not require to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt regarding a suspect’s mind at the time of committing an offence. Assault is a good example in this case. The prosecution should only prove that a suspect intended to cause harm but not to kill.

Specific Intent Crimes

 The prosecution must prove that a suspect had an end goal in mind when they committed an alleged offence. Burglary is a good example of a specific intent crime. The prosecution must prove that a suspect intended to steal from another person’s home. A burglary crime is typically reduced to “breaking and entering” if the prosecution fails to prove specific intent.


Motive focuses on what motivated the suspect to commit a crime– it’s not necessary when the prosecution is proving mens rea. In simple terms, the prosecution should only prove that a suspect committed an alleged crime knowingly or willingly and not why they committed the offence.

Knowledge or Awareness

In this case, the defendant is usually aware that they’re committing an offence. For instance, when a person possesses and distributes prohibited drugs, the prosecution should only prove that the suspect knew they were committing a crime and understood the repercussions.

Concurrence (Mens Rea and Actus Reus)

Concurrence involves proving actus reus and mens rea. In simple words, the prosecution must prove that the prosecution committed an unlawful act (actus reus) while having a “guilty mind” (mens rea). For instance, the prosecution must prove malice afterthought or intent to kill to sustain a conviction in a murder trial.

  1. Causation (Harm)

Causation tries to establish the connection between an alleged crime (action) and injury, loss, or harm sustained or suffered by the plaintiff.

Causation is typically established through the but-for test.  The test aims to establish whether an injury would have occurred if the suspect hadn’t committed a certain act.

The elements of a crime include actus reus, mens rea, and causation. To sustain a criminal trial and/or conviction, prosecutors must prove these three elements.

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