Crown Attorneys represent the Crown and act as prosecutor in proceedings under the Criminal Code of Canada. Criminal prosecutions under federal statutes other than the Criminal Code, such as the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Income Tax Act, etc., are conducted by Federal Crown Attorneys. There are similarities between this role and the Procurator Fiscal in Scotland, Crown Prosecutor in England and Wales and District Attorneys in the United States. Crown Attorneys are not elected; they are civil servants and can be removed from their position only pursuant to their employment agreement with the province.
Although criminal law is under federal jurisdiction in Canada, the administration of justice is constitutionally the responsibility of provinces, except in the Canadian territories of Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut. As a result, the vast majority of Crown Attorneys are employed by Canada's ten provinces.
Lawyers who act on civil or administrative matters for the Crown are not referred to as Crown Attorneys (Senior General Counsel or General Counsel), although both criminal and civil attorneys generally report to the provincial Attorney-General's office. Moreover, lawyers, students-at-law and other persons who only represent the Crown on provincial offences matters (such as municipal by-law enforcement and traffic offences) are referred to as "Provincial Prosecutors" or "Provincial Offences Attorneys" (POAs) rather than Crown Attorneys. Regardless of whether the prosecuted matter is a criminal offence or a provincial offence, Crown Attorneys represent and argue on behalf of "the Crown" (i.e. Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada). In the province of Ontario, there is only one Crown Attorney appointed by the Attorney General per judicial district. The Crown Attorney is charged with supervising the office at the local level, and has a level of autonomy from the Attorney General's office. A Crown Attorney will then, in consultation with the Attorney General's office, hire Assistant Crown Attorneys to further staff the office and prosecute offences. In this respect, Ontario functions similar to the US system of District Attorneys and Assistant District Attorneys, although within the aspects of the Canadian legal system.
As Crown Attorneys do not answer to the electorate, the Canadian prosecutorial system is often seen as less political and less aggressive than the American system as Crown Attorneys do not have to justify their continued employment by appearing to be harsh on criminals. Moreover, because they are paid a regular salary rather than being hired on a case-by-case basis, they are often seen as independent from the police.