Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is a conditional sentence?

    A conditional sentence is a sentence of imprisonment that is served in the community. An offender receiving a conditional sentence must comply with the following mandatory conditions:

      1. Keep the peace and be of good behaviour,
      2. Appear before the court when required to do so,
      3. Report to a supervisor as ordered,
      4. Remain within the jurisdiction of the court, and
      5. Notify the supervisor of any change of name, address, or employment.

    In addition, the court may order that the offender obey additional conditions. Common conditions include: not possessing weapons, not using alcohol or drugs, performing community service, and attending a treatment program.

  • When would an offender have to go to a federal penitentiary?

    A sentence of two years or more must be served in a federal penitentiary, while a sentence of less than two years is served in a provincial institution.

  • How long can someone be imprisoned?

    The Criminal Code sets out maximum terms of imprisonment ranging from two years to life for all indictable offences, and unless otherwise specified, six months for summary conviction offences. These maximum terms provide a guideline to the court as to how seriously Parliament and society regard the particular crime. It is only in the most serious of circumstances that the maximum penalty is imposed. For certain offences the Criminal Code imposes minimum terms of imprisonment. In such cases, the court cannot sentence the offender to a lesser term.

  • What principles does the court consider when sentencing a person who has pled guilty or has been found guilty of an offence?

    These basic principles usually guide the sentencing process:

      • Deterring the offender and others from criminal activity,
      • Rehabilitating the offender,
      • Demonstrating society’s disapproval of the behaviour, and
      • Repairing harm caused to the victim and the community.
  • I have been convicted of more than one offence and face imprisonment. Could I be in jail for twice as long?

    If the terms of imprisonment are served consecutively they will be one after the other. Concurrent terms are served at the same time. Generally, a concurrent sentence is ordered where the offences were committed together and within a short period of time. Where the offences are totally unrelated and took place at different places and times, consecutive sentences are usually imposed. In such cases, the court must ensure that the total term is not excessive.

  • What personal factors will the court look at when sentencing a person?

    The judge may consider several factors, including:

      1. The nature of the offence, including the character and seriousness of the act itself, and whether it was committed on impulse or in a planned and deliberate way;
      2. The age, background, and family circumstances of the offender;
      3. The previous criminal record (if any) of the offender, the length of time since the last conviction, and any indication of lenient treatment in the past;
      4. Any unusual circumstances that appear from the evidence;
      5. Any mitigating factors such as a guilty plea or cooperation with the police;
      6. The pre-sentence report (if one is ordered by the Court) which is prepared by a probation officer and contains information regarding all aspects of the offender’s life;
      7. The penalties assigned by law to the offence including minimum and maximum sentences; and
      8. Consistency in the sentencing of different individuals who participate in the same crime.

    The Criminal Code also states that all available sanctions other than imprisonment should be considered where reasonable, and particular attention should be given to Indigenous offenders and their particular circumstances. A pre-sentence report may be helpful to canvass some of the issues such as substance abuse, poverty, racism, and family or community breakdown. A restorative approach is to be encouraged where suitable.

  • What is a victim impact statement?

    A Victim Impact Statement is a written statement from a victim’s point of view that is submitted to the court. The victim can describe the harm that has been done and the impact of the crime on their life. A Victim Impact Statement may be prepared by a person who has suffered physical harm or emotional loss from a crime. If the victim is unable to make a statement, their spouse, close relative, or dependant may make the statement for them. Survivors of a deceased victim and parents of a child can also make a statement.

    Every victim of a crime has the right to present a Victim Impact Statement to the court and to have it taken into account upon sentencing.

  • Can I ask the court to allow me to serve my sentence on weekends?

    Where the total term of the sentence is not more than 90 days, the court has the discretion to order that the time be served intermittently (at distinct intervals such as on weekends). Such sentences allow the offender to remain employed, continue in school, or otherwise avoid financial hardship.

  • My lawyer told me that I was granted a discharge. What does this mean?

    The granting of an absolute discharge means that you have been found guilty but have not been convicted of the offence. A conditional discharge has the same result as an absolute discharge except that the sentenced person must obey a set of conditions in a probation order for a specific period of time.

  • What does it mean if a person is declared a “dangerous offender”?

    An application can be made to have an accused person (usually a habitual offender or dangerous sexual offender) declared a “dangerous offender”. If this is done, the offender can be sentenced to an indeterminate (indefinite) period of imprisonment. After the first seven years in custody, and every two years after that, the National Parole Board must review the offender’s circumstances to decide whether parole should be granted.

  • What happens if I do not follow the conditions in my conditional discharge?

    If you do not follow the conditions, the court can revoke the discharge and substitute a more severe penalty for the offence.

  • I received a suspended sentence. What happens if I breach a condition of my probation order?

    An offender who does not obey a specified condition can be charged with the offence of failing or refusing to comply with a probation order. The penalties for such an offence can include the imposition of further conditions, an extension of the order, or a fine or imprisonment. If the offender is convicted of another offence at any time during the probation period, the court may revoke the probation order and impose any sentence which could have been imposed for the original offence, change the conditions of the order, or extend its terms.

  • I was told that I might get a fine for my offence. How much will I have to pay?

    The Criminal Code limits the amount of the fine imposed for a summary conviction offence to a maximum of $2,000 for individuals and $100,000 for corporations. There is no limit to the amount of a fine imposed for an indictable offence.

  • What is the victim fine surcharge?

    The court imposes an additional penalty on an offender who has been convicted of a provincial offence or a federal offence under the Criminal Code or the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. The money goes into a trust account to provide services for victims of crime. The court can waive the surcharge in certain circumstances.

  • What is restitution?

    The court may order that the offender compensate the victim for property lost or damaged, loss of income or support as a result of injuries suffered, and moving and temporary housing expenses for having to leave the offender’s household in domestic violence situations.