Sentencing Options In Canada And Principles of Sentencing
If an accused person has been found guilty, they will receive a sentence as ordered by the court. The federal Criminal Code lists all of the criminal offences and their accompanying sentences in Canada.
Sentencing is guided by the principle that the sentence should match the offender’s degree of responsibility for the offence. The more responsible the offender and the more serious the crime, the higher the sentence. For example, first-degree murder, which requires premeditated planning, receives the harshest sentence of life imprisonment.
The following article provides a brief overview of sentencing principles and options in Canada.
According to the Department of Justice, the main purpose of sentencing is to contribute to a respect for the law and to a just, peaceful, and safe society by imposing fit sentences that have the following objectives:
- Discourage the offender and the public from committing similar crimes
- Promote a sense of responsibility in offenders and acknowledgment of the harm done
- Separate offenders from society when necessary
- Denounce the unlawful conduct and harm caused to the victim
- Assist in rehabilitating the offender
- Provide reparations for harm done to the victim and the community
When determining the appropriate sentence, the court considers the victim’s statement on the damage that the offence has caused in their life, including physical or emotional harm, economic loss, or property damage. This is called a Victim Impact Statement. Depending on the offence, the court may also consider a Community Impact Statement.
In determining the sentence, a court also considers:
- The fairness of the sentence under the circumstances
- The offender’s degree of responsibility
- The seriousness of the offence
- If an aggravating factor (e.g. prior criminal record) merits increasing the sentence
- If a mitigating factor (e.g. no prior criminal record) merits decreasing the sentence
There are various types of sentences and combinations of sentences which can be issued in Canada, including:
1) Fine: The offender may have to pay a set amount of money for committing the offence, and the fine may accompany other sentences, such as jail time. If an offender does not pay the fine, they may potentially face a civil judgement against them or jail time.
2) Imprisonment: For some offences, the offender may be sentenced to jail time. Sentences that are less than two years are served in a provincial correctional system while sentences that are more than two years are served in a federal penitentiary.
3) Life Sentence: If an offender has committed first or second-degree murder, they will be sentenced to life imprisonment. In cases of first-degree murder, an offender is not eligible for parole until they have served 25 years of their sentence, while second-degree murder requires that an offender serves between 10-25 years to be eligible.
4) Absolute Discharge: An accused who has been found guilty of a less serious offence may receive an absolute discharge without any further conditions imposed on them, and no conviction will be registered under their name
5) Conditional Discharge: An accused who has been found guilty of a less serious offence may receive a discharge only if they meet certain conditions imposed by the court, such as attending a treatment or counselling program.
6) Intermittent Sentence: The court may order that sentences that are less than 90 days are served in blocks of time, such as only on the weekends. Intermittent sentences are usually accompanied by probation orders to oversee the offender’s conduct when they are released into the community.
7) Suspended Sentence and Probation: An offender may be released on probation and the sentence suspended for a certain period of time if the court sees fit. A fine or conditional discharge may also be imposed.
8) Conditional Sentence: If a court orders a sentence of fewer than two years’ imprisonment, the sentence does not have to be carried out in jail. The court can order that the sentence be served in the community, with certain conditions, but it is up to the court to decide which option is more appropriate for that particular offender. The court will consider public safety in making the decision.
9) Indeterminate Sentence for Dangerous Offenders: A person may be designated as a “dangerous offender” if the offence has caused serious personal injury to the victim, and they may be sentenced to an unspecified period of detention, meaning without an end date.
10) Restitution Order: An offender may be ordered to pay money that the victim lost as a result of the offender’s crime.
11) Victim Surcharge: An offender will be ordered to pay a victim surcharge when they receive their sentence, which is usually 30% of any fine imposed. If a court has not imposed a fine, the surcharge is $100 for summary conviction offences or $200 for indictable offences. A court has the power to increase the amount of the surcharge if the offender merits an increase.
This article is only a brief overview of the complex and significant issue that is sentencing. It is not meant to represent legal advice or opinion in any way.
If you are looking for more information, do not hesitate to contact us and our Criminal Lawyers can discuss your matter in more detail over a free consultation. You can reach our office at 905-366-0202 or contact us through our website here