Tyson Dahlem Criminal Defence Lawyer


The criminal justice system is a vast collection of courts, prosecutors, defence lawyers, police forces, and other government agencies.  Navigating through the system can be complicated, difficult, and bewildering. This page is not legal advice. Each situation is different and the law is constantly changing. The purpose of this page is to explain the basic structure of our criminal justice system. 

Provincial Court of Alberta

For most persons charged with a criminal offence, this is the only court that they appear in. It is the court that an accused person first appears in. All preliminary inquiries take place in Provincial Court. It is the court that in the vast majority of circumstances deals with bail and release of an accused person. It is the court where virtually all criminal trials take place. It is the lowest level of the court hierarchy.

Each province has a provincial court. The Provincial Court of Alberta is established by the Provincial Court Act. The powers of the Provincial Court are those given to it by the Criminal Code (and other statutes), as well as the common law. Specifically, the Provincial Court has all the powers necessary to try criminal cases. Every trial in a provincial court is in front of a judge. Provincial Court handles all trials of summary offences. If an accused person chooses to do so, Provincial Court also has the jurisdiction to handle trials of indictable offences. After the Provincial Court has tried a case, any appeal of the court decision goes to the Court of Queen's Bench.

Court of Queen's Bench of Alberta

The Court of Queen's Bench is the "superior court of inherent jurisdiction" for Alberta. Each province has a superior court, but the name changes from province to province. The Court of Queen's Bench is the next level up from Provincial Court. It hears appeals from the Provincial Court. Judges in the Court of Queen's Bench are referred to as "Justices". It mainly hears criminal trials in more serious cases. All jury trials in Alberta take place in the Court of Queen's Bench, or its equivalent in other provinces. It is also possible to have a trial with just a Justice. Any appeal of a trial decision by the Court of Queen's Bench goes to the Court of Appeal. The Court of Queen's Bench also hears appeals from Provincial Court on summary matters. Its decisions are binding on all the Provincial Courts in Alberta.

Court of Appeal of Alberta

Each province in Canada has a Court of Appeal. This is the highest court in each province. The name really does say it all - all the Court of Appeal does is hear appeals from the courts below. It does not conduct any trials. The appeal process is a review of the record from the trial court, either the Court of Queen's Bench, or the Provincial Court, to make sure that the trial judge interpreted and applied the law correctly. As such, the Court of Appeal is mainly there to resolve legal questions. Its decisions are binding on both the Provincial Court and the Court of Queen's Bench in Alberta.

Supreme Court of Canada

The Supreme Court of Canada is the highest court in the country. It functions like the Court of Appeal, but for the entire country, and only for matters of national importance. Its rulings are binding on all the courts below it across the country.


The Crown Prosecutors employed by the Province of Alberta are responsible for most of the prosecutions that take place in this province. They are responsible for all Criminal Code prosecutions, all prosecutions under provincial statutes such as the Traffic Safety Act, the Fisheries Act and the Wildlife Act. In most cases, if you have been charged with an offence or criminal offence, you will be dealing with the Crown Prosecutors employed by Alberta Justice.

The federal government employs many prosecutors who work for the Public Prosecution Service of Canada. The Public Prosecution Service of Canada prosecutes offences under all areas of federal responsibility. Common prosecutions are for offences under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Customs and Excise Act, the Income Tax Act and the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act.

The prosecutors at both the federal and provincial level are there to represent the Crown and prosecute offences "without prejudice or favour". The prosecutors cannot and do not give legal advice to accused persons. Never forget that their role is to prosecute offences - do not make any decisions without getting independent legal advice from a defence lawyer.

Defence Lawyers

A defence lawyer works only for you. His or her sole role is to represent the client and advocate for the best result possible. A defence lawyer will uncover flaws in the prosecutions case, if they are there to be found. A defence lawyer will provide you with objective advice on what is the best way to proceed. It may be necessary to run a trial. Resolving the matter by way of a guilty plea or some other disposition might be the best way to go. Just because you have been charged with an offence doesn't mean that the Crown can prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.  


The judge is (unless there is a jury) the person who decides both the questions of law and the questions of fact. He or she determines whether or not the Crown has proven their case beyond a reasonable doubt. If there is a finding of guilt, the judge is the one who ultimately determines what the sentence is.  

Judges are not advocates for either side. The judge cannot provide you with legal advice. Judges take great care to ensure the fairness of the trial process, but they are also the person who makes the ultimate decision. As such, they can't and won't favour one side over the other. It is up to you to advance your defence. The judge won't do it for you.

The Police

There are many different police forces in Alberta. Most smaller cities have hired the RCMP, who basically serve as the municipal police force. Larger cities have established their own police forces. Police officers have broad powers of arrest. Police officers are the ones who investigate criminal allegations and in most circumstances, they are the ones who make the decision on whether or not to lay charges.

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