Canadian Reality vs. American Dramas

Who doesn’t love a good legal drama? Most of us have at least one legal show we love to watch, may it be Suits, The Good Wife, Scandal, Law and Order or some other show. However, as Canadians we often forget that these shows are American based; hence they do not reflect the Canadian legal system.  Here are some key conflicting facts in the American and Canadian legal system.

1. When being arrested, Canadian’s do not have “Miranda rights” – we are read our Charter rights. This is a common misconception among Canadians.  Violation of Miranda rights is a reoccurring theme in American television series and I believe many Canadians just picked up the terms without evaluating their applicability to Canadian law. So if you tell an officer they have to read you your Miranda rights while being arrested and they say they don’t, they aren’t lying.

2. Canadians cannot “plead the fifth”. Our equivalent of pleading the fifth is s.11 of the Charter that states

“11. Any person charged with an offence has the right …
(c) not to be compelled to be a witness in proceedings against that person in respect of the offence”

I know it may not be as fun to say, but it’s better to be right than dramatic in court.


3. Court conduct in Canada is far more formal than in the U.S. Canadians refer to the opposing counsel as “my friend”… which is not the case in America.  Also, in Canadian courts, legal practitioners do not speak informally to the judge or their counsel.

4. Unlike in the U.S, in Canada judges are not assigned cases.  When you watch an American legal show you will often see one judge throughout the entire case from beginning to end.  In Canada, cases are signed to courts thus any judge sitting in the court can hear a related matter. Accordingly, multiple judges may hear and decide on your proceeding motions throughout the course of a civil matter.

5. In Canada, fully licensed paralegals are permitted to have their own practices and do not require lawyer supervision. In the United States this is not the case as lawyers are held liable for their paralegals mistakes.

6. In Canada, jury trials are rare for civil law matters except for personal injury and insurance litigation.  In the U.S juries play a larger role in civil cases than they do in Canada.

7. A life sentence in Canada is 25 years.  In the U.S a life sentence is carried out for the entire natural life of the inmate.prison

8. Compensation for damages in Canada is not as high as it is in the U.S. When you watch American legal shows you will often find the winning party is awarded an excessive amount in damages, this is not the case in Canada – even for pain and suffering, it is rare.

9. Copyright laws in Canada extend for the life of the individual plus an additional 50 years after they pass.  Conversely, the U.S extends copyright duration to the lifespan of the author and an additional 70 years after the death of the author.

10. Employment law is regulated largely at provincial level in Canada and the other small portion is regulated at the federal level.  In the U.S employment law is regulated by a National Labor Relations Board which governs the nation’s unionized workforce.american

11. In Canada, an employer must accommodate an employee with a disability until a point of “undue hardship”.  Conversely, in the U.S, there is a lower financial threshold that allows an employer to remove an employee.

12. In Canada the losing party is awarded costs which include disbursements and a portion of the lawyers’ fees.  Furthermore, if the losing party refused a reasonable offer prior to the case being settled and unnecessarily prolonged the process they cost of awards maybe increased in favour of the winning party.

Which legal difference surprised you the most? What was your reaction after reading this post? Make sure you share it in the comments!!

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    1. Thank you for your kind words. I don’t think many individuals are aware of the differences. It’s easy to get caught up in American dramas and to assume that Canadian laws are the same. This piece just aims to shed some light on the differences. I hope to keep hearing more from you 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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