What’s the difference between 1st-degree murder, 2nd-degree murder and manslaughter?

Canadian law distinguishes between justifiable, accidental and culpable homicide. A death is deemed a culpable homicide, generally, if there is blame to be assigned.

The most common types of culpable homicide are:

1st-degree murder

Definition: A homicide that is both planned and deliberate. An example of this is a contract killing.

Some homicides are automatically considered first-degree murder:

  • The killing of an on-duty police officer or prison employee.
  • A killing committed during a hijacking, sexual assault, kidnapping, hostage taking, terrorism, intimidation, criminal harassment. Any offence committed on behalf of a criminal organization.

Sentence: First -degree murder carries an automatic life sentence with no possibility of parole for 25 years. 

2nd-degree murder

Definition: Generally, a deliberate killing that occurs without planning and does not fall under any of the categories of first degree murder.

Sentence: The minimum sentence is life in prison with no parole for 10 years, but sentences can be as long as life in prison without parole for 25 years. 


Definition: A homicide committed without intent, although there may have been an intention to cause harm. There are two broad categories of manslaughter:

Unlawful act — when a person commits a crime that unintentionally results in the death of another person. For example, someone who fires their gun carelessly in public and unintentionally kills a bystander.

Criminal negligence — when the homicide was the result of an act or a failure to act that showed wanton or reckless disregard for the lives of others. 

In some instances, a murder charge may be reduced to manslaughter if the mental faculties of the perpetrator were impaired or if the homicide was committed in the heat of passion.

Sentence: Manslaughter carries no minimum sentence, except when it is committed with a firearm, in which case the minimum sentence is four years in prison.