When it comes to alleged criminal activity, there are many legal terms that are poorly understood by the culture at large. Often used in movies and television shows, the terms “aiding” and “abetting” are prime examples of such terminology. 

At Jaswal & Krueger, we specialize in criminal defence. In this blog post, we will take a closer look at what it means to aid and abet to help you understand when criminal liability may apply. For insight into other aspects of criminal law in Canada, consult our Criminal Law beginner’s guide

What is Aid and Abet? The Legal Framework in Canada

In Canadian criminal law, aiding and abetting refer to the actions of assisting or encouraging another person in the commission of a crime. These legal concepts are critical to understanding accomplice liability, where an individual can be held just as responsible as the primary offender. 

Section 21 of the Canadian Criminal Code (Canadian Criminal Code) lays out the legal foundation for aiding and abetting. It specifies that anyone who aids or abets another person in committing a crime is considered a party to that offense and faces the same penalties as the actual perpetrator of the criminal act.

Key Provisions on Aiding and Abetting:

  • Subsection 21(1): Defines what constitutes aiding and abetting, including providing assistance, encouragement, or support to the principal offender.
  • Subsection 21(2): States that individuals who counsel another to commit a crime can be held criminally liable if the crime is subsequently committed.

Aiding and abetting are like two sides of the same coin. Although each term has a slightly different meaning and definition, they work together to complete the act of a crime. “Aiding” involves providing assistance to someone in committing a crime, while “abetting” means encouraging or advising someone to commit a criminal offense.

Examples of Aiding

  • Physical Assistance: Driving the getaway car, disabling security systems.
  • Planning: Helping to strategize the crime, creating blueprints.
  • Providing Tools: Supplying weapons or other equipment used in the crime.

Examples of Abetting

  • Encouraging: Motivating the primary offender to commit the crime.
  • Inciting: Provoking or urging the commission of the crime.
  • Providing Moral Support: Being present at the scene to support the offender.

Equal Culpability with Primary Offenders

Under Canadian law, those who aid and abet are treated with the same severity as the main offender. This principle underscores the seriousness with which the law views all participants in criminal offenses. 

Elements of Aiding and Abetting

Actus Reus (Guilty Act) – The actus reus of aiding and abetting involves actions like providing assistance or encouragement to the primary offender. This can include anything from helping to plan the crime to providing the tools necessary for its commission.

Mens Rea (Guilty Mind) – The mens rea element requires that the individual has knowledge of the primary offender’s intent to commit the crime and intentionally aids or encourages that person. Simply put, there must be a shared criminal intent between the accomplice and the primary offender. For example, a person who let a friend borrow a car without any knowledge that the car was going to be used in a crime would not have the necessary mens rea. 


  • Actus Reus: If an individual provides a getaway car for a bank robbery, they are committing the actus reus of aiding.
  • Mens Rea: If the person providing the getaway car knows about the robbery plan and agrees to assist, they meet the mens rea requirement.

Legal Consequences – Possible Penalties for Aiding and Abetting

Those found guilty of aiding and abetting can face severe penalties. The exact penalties–whether imprisonment, fines or others–depend on the nature and severity of the primary offense. The legal system ensures that those who aid and abet are punished just as harshly as the primary offender. This reflects the principle that all parties involved in a crime contribute to its commission and must be held accountable.

Defence Strategies

One common defence is the lack of requisite intent, which involves establishing  reasonable doubt that the accused did not have the necessary intent to aid or abet the crime. This defence requires a thorough examination of evidence to show that the accused did not knowingly assist or encourage the crime. Establishing the absence of intent can effectively challenge the prosecution’s case by highlighting gaps or weaknesses in their evidence regarding the accused’s state of mind and involvement.

Another defence is withdrawal from participation. This strategy requires the accused to prove that they took clear and definitive steps to remove themselves from the criminal activity before it occurred. Examples of such actions include notifying the authorities or persuading the primary offender to abandon the plan. Successfully demonstrating withdrawal can exonerate the accused by showing a deliberate effort to dissociate from the crime, thus negating their liability for aiding or abetting.

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