A gift or a bribe?


Government officials are generally permitted to receive gifts of a small value from members of the public. However, the distinction between and a bribe and a gift can be unclear. If a government official accepts a benefit from a member of the public (when the benefit is a bribe, instead of a gift) there may be severe consequences – including jail time.

Under section 121(1)(a) of the Criminal Code, RSC 1985, c C-46, every government official who either, directly or indirectly, accepts a “benefit of any kind” as cooperation or assistance in connection with a transaction of business relating to the government is guilty of a criminal offence of bribery.

There is a three-part legal test in order for a government official to be found guilty of an offence under this section:

  1. The accused must be an official and know that they are an official;
  2. They must intentionally accept, or demand, a loan, reward, advantage or benefit of any kind for himself, herself or another person; and
  3. The accused must know that the benefit is in consideration for cooperation, assistance or exercise of influence in connection with the transaction of business relating to the government.

Unfortunately, there is not a bright-line distinction on what constitutes as “a benefit.” Elected officials have been charged with bribery where they have accepted: CFL football tickets, NHL hockey tickets, gift cards with a significant dollar value, payment for travel and donations to public official’s spouses.

Courts have also determined the following do not constitute a benefit for the purposes of bribery: coffee, low value Christmas gifts, low value promotional items or moderately priced meals. The next time you receive a benefit, it may be worth asking yourself: Is this a bribe or a gift?

This post is meant to provide information only and is not intended to provide legal advice. Although every effort has been made to provide current and accurate information, changes to the law may cause the information in this post to be outdated.


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