Lesson 2: Criminal Sentencing

Topic 1: Principles of Sentencing

The Criminal Code of Canada outlines the principles and purpose of sentencing in s. 718. These principles are placed in the Criminal Code as a clear guideline to judges and a statement of principles that give direction to our penal laws and sanctions.

The following sections from the Criminal Code are the codification in Canada of the principles which have governed sentences in the common law:

  • Denunciation — making sure the punishment reflects society’s abhorrence for the crime committed
  • Deterrence (both specific for the accused and general for the population at large) — to reduce criminal conduct
  • Rehabilitation — to change the behaviour of an offender and reconstitute them as productive citizens
  • Protection of the public — through incarceration and/or the imposition of conditions to control the accused’s behaviour in the community and to prevent the repetition of the criminal activity

In addition to these principles, the Code has added the principles of:

  • Reparation — to repay, repair or compensate the victim or community loss and harm
  • Responsibility — for the offender to acknowledge the harm done to the victim and the community

These principles are all shaped by the over-arching concept that any sentence must be proportional to the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender. The Criminal Code also mandates the consideration of aggravating or mitigating factors, similar sentences for similar crimes and offenders and special consideration for aboriginal offenders.

s. 718. The fundamental purpose of sentencing is to contribute, along with crime prevention initiatives, to respect for the law and the maintenance of a just, peaceful and safe society by imposing just sanctions that have one or more of the following objectives:

  • To denounce unlawful conduct
  • To deter the offender and other persons from committing offences
  • To separate offenders from society, where necessary
  • To assist in rehabilitating offenders
  • To provide reparations for harm done to victims or to the community
  • To promote a sense of responsibility in offenders, and acknowledgment of the harm done to victims and to the community

The fundamental principle of sentencing is s. 718.1: A sentence must be proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender.

Other sentencing principles include s. 718.2: A court that imposes a sentence shall also take into consideration the following principles:

  •  A sentence should be increased or reduced to account for any relevant aggravating or mitigating circumstances relating to the offence or the offender, and, without limiting the generality of the foregoing:
    • evidence that the offence was motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on race, national or ethnic origin, language, colour, religion, sex, age, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, or any other similar factor, or
    • evidence that the offender, in committing the offence, abused a position of trust or authority in relation to the victim shall be deemed to be aggravating circumstances
  • A sentence should be similar to sentences imposed on similar offenders for similar offences committed in similar circumstances
  • Where consecutive sentences are imposed, the combined sentence should not be unduly long or harsh
  • An offender should not be deprived of liberty, if less restrictive sanctions may be appropriate in the circumstances
  • All available sanctions other than imprisonment that are reasonable in the circumstances should be considered for all offenders, with particular attention to the circumstances of Aboriginal offenders