Joinder and Severance of Charges

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Joinder of Charges

Under s. 591(1), any counts can be joined onto the same indictment.

Joinder of counts
591 (1) Subject to section 589, any number of counts for any number of offences may be joined in the same indictment, but the counts shall be distinguished in the manner shown in Form 4.
Each count separate
(2) Where there is more than one count in an indictment, each count may be treated as a separate indictment.


A party may apply to the court join charges on separate informations where the offences relate. [1]. The judge further has the power to hear evidence concurrently on a summary and indictable matter where the offences relate. [2] The consequence of this is that an otherwise summary offence matter can be tried and disposed of by a Justice of a Superior Court where the offence relates to a indictable matter that the Justice is hearing evidence on.

Generally, "persons alleged to be involved in a common enterprise should be jointly tried". Separate indictments create the risk of "abusive mischief" such as where the crown calls one coaccused to testify against the other. [3]

See also: R v Dardon, 2004 ABQB 14 (CanLII)

  1. See 9:13012 of E. Ewaschuk, Criminal Pleadings and Practice in Canada, 2d ed
  2. See. R v Clunas [1992] SCR 595 1992 CanLII 27
  3. R v Anderson-Wilson, 2010 ONSC 489 (CanLII)

Severance of Charges

A motion to sever co-accused can be brought under s. 591(3)(b) of the Criminal Code:

Severance of accused and counts
(3) The court may, where it is satisfied that the interests of justice so require, order

(a) that the accused or defendant be tried separately on one or more of the counts; and
(b) where there is more than one accused or defendant, that one or more of them be tried separately on one or more of the counts.

Order for severance
(4) An order under subsection (3) may be made before or during the trial but, if the order is made during the trial, the jury shall be discharged from giving a verdict on the counts

(a) on which the trial does not proceed; or
(b) in respect of the accused or defendant who has been granted a separate trial.

R.S., 1985, c. C-46, s. 591; R.S., 1985, c. 27 (1st Supp.), s. 119; 2011, c. 16, s. 5.


There is a "strong presumption" that accused to be charged together for offences arising from the same events.[1] The policy reasons for joint trials include:[2]

  1. Joint trials are more likely to uncover the truth.
  2. Joint trials avoid inconsistent verdicts.
  3. Joint trials are more efficient.
  4. Joint trials are less disruptive for witnesses.

"Interests of Justice" test
The "interest of justice" is determined based on the balance of “prejudice to the accused and the public interest in a single trial”. [3]This includes the interests of those of the accused, the co-accused, and the community as represented by the prosecution. The trial judge shall weigh the competing interests and will sever only if satisfied that severance is required. The applicant must overcome the presumption that co-accused who are jointly charged and are said to have acted in concert, should be tried together.[4] The policy reasons for this presumption includes enhancing the truth-finding process, precluding the possibility of inconsistent verdicts and avoiding the cost and inconvenience of multiple trials of the same issues.[5]

The judge has a "broad discretion" when deciding whether to sever charges under s. 591(3).[6]

The Crown has the option to indict the accused separately or jointly, and the discretion so exercised is entitled to great weight.[7]

The factors to consider include:[8]

  • the general prejudice to the accused;
  • the legal and factual nexus between the counts;
  • the complexity of the evidence;
  • whether the accused intends to testify on one count but not another;
  • the possibility of inconsistent verdicts;
  • the desire to avoid a multiplicity of proceedings;
  • the use of similar fact evidence at trial;
  • the length of the trial having regard to the evidence to be called;
  • the potential prejudice to the accused with respect to the right to be tried within a reasonable time;
  • and the existence of antagonistic defences as between co-accused persons
  • expense and convenience of witnesses;[9]

Severance will be granted where:[10]

  • the defendants have antagonistic defences;
  • the important evidence in favour of one of the defendants which would be admissible on a separate trial would not be allowed on a joint trial;
  • the evidence which is incompetent against one defendant is to be introduced against another, and that it would work prejudicially to the former with the jury;
  • a confession made by one of the defendants, if introduced and proved, would be calculated to prejudice the jury against the other defendants; and
  • one of the defendants could give evidence for the whole or some of the other defendants and would become a competent and compellable witness on the separate trials of such other defendants.

Counts should be severed for multiple sexual offences that relate to separate complainants whose eye-witness identification is necessary to the trial.[11]

Consequences of An Order of Severance

Delayed enforcement
(4.1) The court may make an order under subsection (3) that takes effect either at a specified later date or on the occurrence of a specified event if, taking into account, among other considerations, the need to ensure consistent decisions, it is satisfied that it is in the interests of justice to do so.
Decisions binding on parties
(4.2) Unless the court is satisfied that it would not be in the interests of justice, the decisions relating to the disclosure or admissibility of evidence or the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that are made before any order issued under subsection (3) takes effect continue to bind the parties if the decisions are made — or could have been made — before the stage at which the evidence on the merits is presented.
Subsequent procedure
(5) The counts in respect of which a jury is discharged pursuant to paragraph (4)(a) may subsequently be proceeded on in all respects as if they were contained in a separate indictment.
(6) Where an order is made in respect of an accused or defendant under paragraph (3)(b), the accused or defendant may be tried separately on the counts in relation to which the order was made as if they were contained in a separate indictment.
R.S., 1985, c. C-46, s. 591; R.S., 1985, c. 27 (1st Supp.), s. 119; 2011, c. 16, s. 5.


See also:R v Tymchyshyn et al., 2011 MBQB 261 (CanLII) (rejected)

Jordan Delay in Multi-Party Proceedings

See also: Right to a Trial Within a Reasonable Time
  1. R. v Dhaliwal, 2017 BCSC 2215 (CanLII), at para 20
  2. R v Crawford, 1995 CanLII 138 (SCC), [1995] 1 S.C.R. 858 at para 30
  3. R v E(TI), 2012 MBQB 20 (CanLII) at para 8
  4. R v Savoury, 2005 CanLII 25884 (ON CA) at para 22
    R v Chow, 2005 SCC 24 (CanLII)
  5. R v Sarrazin, [2005] O.J. No. 1404, 2005 CanLII 11388 (ON CA)
  6. R v Last, 2009 SCC 45 (CanLII) at para 21 (" Since the trial judge enjoys a broad discretion in deciding whether to sever or not, a reviewing court should only intervene on the ground of unjudicial ruling if the judge erred on a question of law or made an unreasonable decision.")
  7. R v Handsor, [2005] M.J. No. 79 (QL), 2005 MBQB 59 (CanLII), 193 Man.R. (2d) 8 (Q.B.) at 6
  8. Last, supra at para 18
    R v E(L) 1994 CanLII 1785 (ON CA), (1994), 94 CCC (3d) 228 (Ont. C.A.), at p. 238
    R v Cross 1996 CanLII 5992 (QC CA), (1996), 112 CCC (3d) 410 (Que. C.A.), at p. 419
    R v Cuthbert 1996 CanLII 8341 (BC CA), (1996), 106 CCC (3d) 28 (BCCA), at para 9, aff'd 1997 CanLII 397 (SCC), [1997] 1 SCR 8
    R v E(TI), (failed)
  9. Handsor
  10. Handsor
  11. R v Henry, 2010 BCCA 462 (CanLII) at para 85

See Also