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How Sentencing Works In Ontario

Learn the basics of the Canadian criminal justice system’s sentencing process. From how sentences are imposed to the implications of different sentencing decisions, having foundational knowledge is key.

How does a criminal sentence work? Learn more about how sentences are imposed in Ontario and Canada and what they involve.

How Does Sentencing Work

If a person accused of a criminal offence is found guilty or pleads guilty, the Court is tasked with determining a sentence that is appropriate given the circumstances. Depending on the case, a sentencing hearing may happen immediately following a finding of guilt or in the days, weeks, or months that follow. In some cases, the Crown and the offender’s lawyer or duty counsel will come to an agreement regarding a type of sentence whereas in other instances, there may be arguments for a different sentence.

The sentence that is imposed should be fair based on the circumstances, the nature and severity of the offence, and to which degree that the offender is considered responsible. The guiding force behind imposing a sentence is to demonstrate respect for Canadian law and to work towards ensuring a safe, just society by:

  • Discouraging the offender and others from committing crimes
  • Providing rehabilitation to help the offender
  • Separate the offender from society
  • Foster a sense of responsibility

When working towards finding a sentence, the Court will take into consideration certain factors including:

  • Aggravating circumstances- something that has the potential to increase a sentence such as an offender’s criminal record, prior jail sentences for a related offence, the degree to which a victim was harmed or impacted, victim vulnerability, and the degree to which an offence was planned.
  • Mitigating circumstances- factors which may lead to a decreased sentence such as a low-risk of re-offending, whether it was an isolated incident, being a first-time offender, remorse, and cooperation with authorities.

Types of Sentences

Depending on the circumstances surrounding the offence and offender, there are a range of sentences that the Court may determine to be appropriate. The Court may choose to impose a single sentence, or to combine sentences if it is deemed necessary. In Ontario, some of the most common sentences include:

  • Absolute discharge- following a finding of guilt, the offender is not given any conditions and there are no further court dates. An absolute discharge remains on a criminal record for a year
  • Conditional discharge- occurs following a finding of guilt without the registration of a conviction. A condition discharge requires an offender to abide by certain conditions as outlined in a probation order. Once the probation order has been completed, a condition discharge will remain on a criminal record for 1 to 3 years.
  • Suspended sentence and probation- an offender is required to follow conditions outlined in a probation order and will have a conviction registered against them. To have a conviction removed from their criminal record, an offender must apply for a pardon. A probation order will put forward strict guidelines that an offender must follow for a prescribed period of time.
  • Imprisonment- considered to be the most serious sentence in the Canadian legal system, imprisonment means that an offender receives a jail sentence. In Ontario, sentences lasting less than 2 years, an offender will be placed in a provincial institution. Sentences exceeding 2 years must be served in a federal penitentiary.

In some situations, offenders may be sentenced to pay a fine or serve an intermittent or conditional sentence.

Get Help With Sentencing Concerns

As is the case with so many aspects of the criminal justice system, the sentencing process can be complicated and difficult to navigate. An experienced criminal lawyer can provide skilled guidance and leverage their knowledge of sentencing to assist clients throughout every stage.