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Crown Attorneys represent the Crown and act as prosecutor in proceedings under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Criminal prosecutions under federal statutes other than the Criminal Code, such as the Controlled Animal and Substances Act, the Income Tax Act, etc., are conducted by Federal Crown Attorneys. There are similarities between this role and the Procurator Fiscal in Scotland, Crown Prosecutor in England and Wales and United States Attorney in the United States. Crown Attorneys are not elected. They are civil servants and can be removed from their position only pursuant to their employment agreements.
Although criminal law is under Federal jurisdiction in Canada, the prosecution of most Criminal Code offences—outside of the Yukon Territory, the Northwest Territories, and Nunavut—is delegated to the provincial Attorneys General and their lawful deputies. As a result, the vast majority of Crown Attorneys are employed by Canada's ten provinces.
Lawyers who act on civil or administrative matters for the Provincial Crown are not referred to as Crown Attorneys (Senior General Counsel, General Counsel), or simply Crown Counsel although both criminal and civil attorneys generally report to the provincial Attorney-General's office. Lawyers who work for the Federal Ministry of Justice are often referred to as Crowns even if acting in Civil Matters. Moreover, lawyers, students-at-law and other persons who only represent the Crown on provincial offences matters (such as municipal by-law enforcement and traffic offences) are referred to as "Provincial Prosecutors" or "Provincial Offences Attorneys" (POAs) rather than Crown Attorneys. Regardless of whether the prosecuted matter is a criminal offence or a provincial offence, Crown Attorneys represent and argue on behalf of the Crown. In the province of Ontario, there is only one Crown Attorney appointed by the Attorney General per judicial district. The Crown Attorney is charged with supervising the office at the local level, and has a level of autonomy from the Attorney General's office. A Crown Attorney will then, in consultation with the Attorney General's office, hire Assistant Crown Attorneys to further staff the office and prosecute offences. In this respect, Ontario functions similar to the US system of District Attorneys and Assistant District Attorneys, although within the aspects of the Canadian legal system.
As Crown Attorneys are not elected, the Canadian prosecutorial system is often seen as less politically motivated than other systems. Moreover, because they are paid a regular salary rather than being hired on a case-by-case basis, they are often seen as independent from the police.
- Alberta Justice page on Crown Prosecutors
- Criminal Code, RSC 1985, c C-46, s 2, definition of "Attorney General."