Homicide and Murder: Is There a Difference?

During the course of the summer and fall I received a number of email requests and personal inquiries  asking for explanations or clarification on  specific sections of the Criminal Code of Canada, legal terminology and police policy issues.  I will be running posts from time to time that address some of those questions brought forward by readers.

Today’s will be the first such post.

Question:  Quite often we hear people using the terms ‘murder’ and ‘homicide’ interchangeably.  Do they mean the same thing?

Answer:  The short answer is no.  The longer answer is this:  according to the Criminal Code of Canada (CCC) “a person commits homicide when, directly or indirectly, by any means, he causes the death of a human being”.   Homicides are categorized as either culpable, meaning blameworthy, or not culpable, meaning not blameworthy.

Non culpable homicide is not an offence.  Examples of non culpable homicide include:  persons acting in self-defence or a police officer using lethal force in a manner prescribed by law.

Culpable homicide is categorized as either murder, manslaughter or infanticide.

The Criminal Code of Canada stipulates four circumstances that constitute culpable homicide.  They are, causing the death of a human being : (a) by means of an unlawful act; (b) by criminal negligence; (c) by causing that human being, by threats or fear of violence or by deception, to do anything that causes his death; or (d) by wilfully frightening that human being, in the case of a child or sick person.

In order for a person to be charged with murder, manslaughter or infanticide there must first be a homicide, but the homicide must also be culpable or blameworthy.

Homicide that is not culpable is not an offence.

2 comments on “Homicide and Murder: Is There a Difference?

  1. Thank you for this explanation.
    I have recently reviewed this topic with my Creative Communications Journalism students.
    Some professional news media could use a refresher course on these terms.


  2. Menno Zacharias says:

    Thanks Duncan for your comment. I supose another way of saying it would be: in order for a charge of murder to be laid there must be a homicide, but not all homicides are murders.


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