Sentencing in Canada

An overview of the different sentences in Canada:

When you are convicted of a criminal offence in Canada there are number of possible sentences available depending on what you are found guilty of the and the aggravating and mitigating factors that surrounded your conviction.

Some offences have mandatory minimum sentences whereas others only have typical ranges. When you are sentenced the Judge will look at whether there is a mandatory minimum sentence, then what other people in the same or similar circumstances were sentenced to and then your personal circumstances.

The Goals of Sentencing are:

  1. to denounce unlawful conduct and the harm done to victims or to the community that is caused by unlawful conduct;
  2. to deter the offender and other persons from committing offences;
  3. to separate offenders from society, where necessary;
  4. to assist in rehabilitating offenders;
  5. to provide reparations for harm done to victims or to the community; and
  6. to promote a sense of responsibility in offenders, and acknowledgment of the harm done to victims or to the community.

Absolute discharge: You are found guilty but there is no conviction. This means you have no conviction on your police record (essentially you do not have a Criminal Record) and there are no conditions you must follow upon your sentence. This is a non-conviction and will automatically be removed from your police record one year after the discharge (or it should be removed automatically. It is always best to confirm that it has been).

Conditional discharge: Much like an Absolute discharge you are found guilty but you are not convicted of a crime. However with a conditional discharge there are conditions you must follow which can last a maximum of 3 years this is known as a probation order. This non-conviction is automatically removed from your police record 3 years after your probation order is completed (or should be it is always best to confirm that it has been). 

Fines: A fine can be a penalty for a criminal conviction. A fine can be given on top of an absolute discharge, conditional discharge or a suspended sentence. A fine is only available if their is no minimum term of jail required to in the Criminal Code. However, if you don’t pay the fine you may be put in jail for a period of time. In Saskatchewan there is an option to work off a fine through the Fine Options Program if you do not have the money to pay the fine.

Offences like impaired driving and over 80 have minimum fines. Where there is no minimum fine the Judge will typically determine what you should pay even your involvement in the crime and personal circumstances.

Suspended sentence: A suspended sentence involves a period of probation where you must follow certain conditions for  a maximum of 3 years. In this case however you DO have a criminal conviction, and in turn a criminal record. In order to remove this criminal record you will need to apply to Pardons Canada for a record suspension sentence (formerly known as a pardon).

Conditional sentence order (C.S.O.): This is custodial sentence served outside of jail in the community (i.e. house arrest). There are strict jail-like conditions, usually requiring you to spend most, if not all of your time in your home, not allowing you to consume alcohol or drugs, and requiring you to report to a C.S.O. supervisor regularly. If you breach the C.S.O. conditions the remainder of your sentence could be converted into a jail sentence in a real jail.

Imprisonment: This is a custodial sentence and it results in a criminal conviction. If you are sentenced to two years less a day you will serve your sentence in a provincial jail. If you are serving a sentence of two years or more, you will serve it in a federal prison.

Intermittent sentence: This a custodial sentence that is served broken up, such as only on weekends or weekdays. When you are out of jail you remain on a probation order.

An intermitted sentence is only available where the sentence is less than 90 days. To receive an intermitted sentence the offender must show that they have significant responsibilities that they must tend to, such as caring for a child or relative, or significant impairment on employment. Also, the crime must be minimal enough to warrant a sentence of 90 days or less.

Indeterminate sentence for dangerous offenders: In rare cases there can be an application and hearing to classify someone who commits an offence or offences causing serious personal injury as a dangerous offender and they can be sentenced to an indeterminate sentence. This means the sentence has no end date and is reviewed after 7 years and then every 2 years after that.

Life sentence: If you commit first-degree or second-degree murder you must be sentenced to imprisonment for life. For first-degree you will be ineligible for parole for 25 years. For second-degree you will be ineligible for parole for 10 years.

*While the CIPC record is automatically removes some records for non-convictions they often will still show up in local records and it is always a good idea to contact the police force and have your record purged.