The Changing Face of Conditional Sentencing


Conditional sentences of imprisonment were introduced in 1996 and have emerged as one of the most important issues in the area of sentencing. They were created to help reduce Canada’s overreliance on imprisonment in a manner that is safe and consistent with the principles of sentencing. Although Canada’s overall incarceration rate has declined from 133 per 100,000 in 1994-1995 to 123 per 100,000 in 1998-1999, it is still among the highest in the world among developed countries.

In January 2000, the Supreme Court of Canada handed down a unanimous guideline judgement (R . v. Proulx) on the use of the conditional sentence. The Changing Face of Conditional Sentencing: A One-Day Symposium was the first public forum to address the issue of conditional sentencing since the Supreme Court judgement. The symposium was held at the Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa on May 27, 2000 and was sponsored and organized by the Faculty of Law and Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Ottawa in collaboration with the Research and Statistics Division of the Department of Justice Canada. A number of experts in the area of conditional sentencing spoke at the symposium. Presenters came from a range of departments and organizations and included Judges, academics, Crown Attorneys, defence counsel, and correctional and probation officials from Ontario. Sessions were held on the following: (1) Conditional Sentencing after the Supreme Court judgements: Issues and Directions; (2) Defence and Crown Perspectives on Conditional Sentencing; (3) Limits of the Conditional Sentence and Appellate Review; and (4) Administering Conditional Sentences.

The symposium was well-attended and stimulated a great deal of lively debate on a number of key issues including (1) a discussion of the role of appeal courts in guiding trial judges; (2) an exchange between Ontario Crown counsel and participants regarding the use of guidelines directing Crowns to oppose conditional sentences in specific circumstances; and (3) a general agreement that more resources need to be devoted to the supervision of offenders serving conditional sentences.

We are grateful to the presenters at the symposium and to those individuals who contributed papers on this important issue. This publication is a compilation of eight papers that were presented at the symposium by leading academics in the area, Crown and defence counsel, and Judges. Both the symposium and this publication are timely contributions to current discussions on conditional sentencing. We hope that publishing these papers will help these discussions reach a wider audience. Conditional sentencing will likely continue to be an important part of the sentencing landscape in Canada. Given this, there will be a continuing need to assess and reassess the conditional sentencing regime in order to determine if it is meeting its objectives.

David Daubney
General Counsel and Coordinator
Sentencing Reform Team
Department of Justice Canada

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