Department of Justice Canada

Department of Justice Canada

June 13, 2009 10:36 ET

Minister of Justice to Introduce Legislation to End Conditional Sentences for Property and Serious Crime

TORONTO, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - June 13, 2009) - The Honourable Rob Nicholson, P.C., Q.C., M.P. for Niagara Falls, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, today announced that, on June 15, 2009, he will introduce legislation in the House of Commons that would take further action to ensure that all offenders who commit serious crime are sentenced to a term of imprisonment and not awarded a conditional sentence.

"The Government is committed to ensuring that those who commit serious crimes and who are sentenced to jail serve that time behind bars, and not in the comfort of their home," said Minister Nicholson. "On Monday, June 15th, I intend to introduce legislation that will make it clear that conditional sentences will not be available to criminals who commit serious crimes."

In 2006, this Government introduced legislation, An Act to Amend the Criminal Code (conditional sentences), to make any offence for which there was a maximum sentence of 10 years ineligible for a conditional sentence. However, during the parliamentary process, an amendment to the legislation significantly changed it, removing many of the serious offences that the Bill had proposed for ineligibility. As a result, the potential remained for individuals convicted of non-personal injury crimes such as theft over $5,000 (which includes most auto thefts) and, depending on the circumstances, robberies, arson, and break and enters, to be eligible for conditional sentences.

"The proposed legislation will make it clearer to the courts which offences are not eligible for conditional sentences," said Minister Nicholson. "This will ensure a cautious and more appropriate use of conditional sentences, by reserving them for less serious offences that pose a low risk to community safety."

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Conditional Sentencing

A conditional sentence, which often includes house arrest, is a sentence of imprisonment of less than two years that may be served in the community, provided several pre-conditions are met.

In 1996, the previous government created a conditional sentence regime to allow offenders to serve sentences outside of prisons with court imposed restrictions, such as house arrest. The only offences specifically excluded from this option were offences which carried a minimum prison term. However, other criteria had to be met, including that the sentence imposed must be less than two years and that serving the sentence in the community would not endanger the safety of the community. Despite the criteria, conditional sentences were given in some cases involving serious and violent crime. This prompted public criticism and demands to specifically exclude these offences. In 2000, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that, as long as the criteria for imposition were met, conditional sentences were not off limits to these offences as the previous government chose not to provide specific exclusions.

As part of this Government's commitment to tackling crime, Bill C-9, An Act to Amend the Criminal Code (conditional sentences) was introduced on May 4th, 2006. The legislation was proposed in order to ensure that criminals who committed serious crimes and faced terms of imprisonment would serve that time in jail and not house arrest. The bill proposed that conditional sentences not be an option for any serious offence, i.e., an offence prosecuted by indictment for which the law prescribes a maximum prison sentence of 10 years or more.

The Bill received Second Reading on June 6th, 2006 and was referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. The Committee amended the Bill on October 23, 2006 to remove many of the serious offences that the bill had proposed be ineligible for conditional sentences. The amended bill eliminated the availability of conditional sentences only for indictable offences punishable by 10 years or more that qualified as either:

- a serious personal injury offence as defined in s. 752 of the Criminal Code (including indictable offences with a maximum penalty of 10 years or more involving the use or attempted use of violence against another person, sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault or sexual assault with a weapon),

- a terrorism offence, or

- a criminal organization offence,

As a result, persons convicted of non-personal injury crimes such as theft over $5,000 (which includes most auto thefts) and depending on the circumstances, robberies, arson, and break and enters, remained eligible for conditional sentences. The use of the term "serious personal injury offence", which was developed originally for the dangerous and long-term offender provisions of the Criminal Code, does not provide sufficient certainty that the courts would determine that specific serious offences would be ineligible for conditional sentences.

Bill C- 9 as amended was passed by the House of Commons and the Senate, received Royal Assent in May 2007, and came into force in December 2007.

Contact Information

  • Office of the Minister of Justice
    Darren Eke
    Press Secretary
    Department of Justice
    Media Relations