Including Criminal Code, Highway Traffic, Income Tax, and Regulatory Offences

Can You be Forced to be a Criminal?

People who commit offences often say they felt pressured to do so by someone else. In considering whether they should be excused from committing crimes because of duress, the laws attempt to strike a balance between the conflicting interests of the accused not to be punished for something they did involuntarily, and the interests of victims and society.

What the Criminal Code says

There is a section of the Criminal Code of Canada that addresses duress. A person who commits an offence under compulsion of threats is excused for committing the offence. However, this does not apply to some of the most serious offences including murder and sexual assault. Interestingly, the section has been held to be in breach of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in the sense that the requirements to meet the test for duress are too strict.

Common Law Defence

Duress is also recognized in common law (judge-made law) as a defence. It exists in addition to and separately from the Criminal Code section. The common law defence is broader than the Criminal Code section, and continues to evolve as a concept.

In general, there are three considerations:
  • There is clear and imminent danger.
  • There is an absence of any reasonable alternative to breaking the law.
  • There is proportionality between harm inflicted and harm avoided, in the sense that the harm avoided must be either comparable to or clearly greater than the harm inflicted.


Many people are curious about whether duress applies in their case. This blog post is not legal advice and may not be current information. Contact me to see how the concept of duress could apply to your situation. Visit my main website by clicking here.