Conditional Sentencing in Canada: an Overview of Research Findings

3. Usage of Conditional Sentences 1996-1999 (cont'd)

3. Usage of Conditional Sentences 1996-1999 (cont'd)

3.3 Length of Conditional Sentence Orders

Table 3.4 provides a breakdown of the lengths of conditional sentences imposed, for Canada and also the provinces and territories. The average length of all conditional sentences was 8 months. Almost half the orders were for periods under six months. Fully 61% of the orders were for six months or less. Five percent were exactly 12 months while the remaining orders were longer than 12 months but less than two years. (The statutory limit for a conditional sentence order is two years less one day.) Over four hundred cases (446) were at the maximum of two years less a day.

Table 3.4 Length of Conditional Sentence (alone) by Province and Territory (1996-1999)
Province/Territory Sentence Length in Months
0 to 3 > 3 to < 6 6 > 6 to < 12 12 > 12 to < 18 > 18 to < 24 TOTAL
Newfoundland n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a
Nova Scotia 421 371 270 144 156 21 103 1,486
28% 25% 18% 10% 11% 1% 7%
Prince Edward Island 56 14 6 6 6 3 2 93
60% 15% 7% 7% 7% 3% 2%
New Brunswick 539 508 45 320 34 49 83 1,578
34% 32% 3% 20% 2% 3% 5%
Quebec 2,164 3,428 3,457 2,253 1,388 12,690
17% 27% 0% 27% 0% 18% 11%
Ontario 3,602 1,282 3,908 1,289 330 760 272 11,443
32% 11% 34% 11% 3% 7% 2%
Manitoba 261 151 291 163 175 48 155 1,244
21% 12% 23% 13% 14% 4% 13%
Saskatchewan 204 577 879 527 550 104 329 3,170
6% 18% 28% 17% 17% 3% 11%
Alberta 590 297 869 403 608 99 548 3,414
17% 9% 26% 12% 18% 3% 16%
British Columbia 2,322 838 1,283 1,255 404 232 6,334
37% 13% 20% 20% 0% 6% 4%
Northwest Territories 46 41 41 17 8 2 11 166
28% 25% 25% 10% 5% 1% 7%
Yukon 82 17 12 1 19 2 133
62% 13% 9% 1% 14% 0% 2%
TOTAL CANADA 10,287 7,524 7,604 7,582 1,886 3,743 3,125 41,751
25% 18% 18% 18% 5% 9% 6% 100%

3.4 Length of conditional sentence orders by Offence Category

Not surprisingly, the length of the conditional sentence orders varied considerably across the different offence categories. Table 3.5 summarizes these data for Canada and the provinces/ territories, although data are unavailable for some jurisdictions. As can be seen, the longest average length was associated with the most serious offence: manslaughter (16.5 months). Within the different categories of offences, sexual offences and domestic violence offences attracted the longest conditional sentence orders, 10 months and 9 months respectively. Crimes against the administration of justice resulted in the shortest conditional sentence orders (an average of four months, see Table 3.5).

Table 3.5 Average Length of Conditional Sentence by Offence Type for Selected Jurisdictions, in months (1996-1999)
Province/ Territory Number and Type of Offences
Man-slaughter Person Property B&E Fraud Sexual Assault Family Violence Impaired Driving Dangerous Driving Administration of Justice CDSA Other
Nova Scotia 5,6 5,4 8,7 7,6 7,8 3,8 7,2 2,8 8,1 5,8
New Brunswick 17,0 5,0 5,0 7,0 7,0 8,0 6,0 5,0 4,0 7,0 5,0
Ontario 20,8 6,7 6,0 7,6 7,9 10,6 3,8 4,2 3,8 8,5 7,4
Manitoba 12,0 8,1 7,9 10,0 9,5 11,2 7,2 6,7 3,5 7,9 3,5
Saskatchewan 8,9 7,7 10,0 10,0 11,6 9,0 9,6 9,6 6,5 10,7 8,3
Alberta 9,9 9,1 9,6 6,4 10,1 6,0
British Columbia 16,3 5,8 5,5 8,8 7,5 10,6 3,5 6,1 4,8 6,6 6,3
Yukon 4,8 2,3 3,2 9,0 7,0 3,4 2,4 3,7 2,9
AVERAGE 16,5 6,9 6,1 7,9 8,4 9,5 9,0 5,3 6,9 4,3 7,8 5,7

The correlation between the seriousness of the crime and the duration of the conditional sentence order presumably reflects the influence of section 718.1. That provision of the Criminal Code articulates the fundamental principle of sentencing, namely that: A sentence must be proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender.” All sentences, including conditional sentences of imprisonment, are subject to this fundamental principle.

3.5 Nature of Optional Conditions

An important issue in the area of conditional sentencing concerns the number and nature of optional conditions imposed as part of a conditional sentence order. These data are only available from certain jurisdictions, and our conclusions with respect to the use of different conditions must therefore be tentative for the present. However, Table 3.6 provides some indication of the usage of conditions to date. As can be seen, alcohol and drug treatment programs are the most frequently-imposed optional conditions.[5]

Table 3.6 Optional Conditions Attached to Conditional Sentence Orders in Selected Provinces (1996-1999)
Province/ Territory Optional Conditions
Alcohol/ Drug Rehab. Other Treatment Restitution Perform CSW Curfew No Contact House Arrest Other
Newfoundland 187 201 43 144 208 169 244 264
13% 14% 3% 10% 14% 12% 17% 18%
Prince Edward Island 49 31 8 7 5 11 38 11
31% 19% 5% 4% 3% 7% 24% 7%
New Brunswick 849 155 247 300 158 202 190
40% 7% 12% 14% 8% 10% 0% 9%
Manitoba 355 227 112 462 756 262 169 3 443
6% 4% 2% 8% 13% 5% 3% 60%
Saskatchewan 1 043 131 220 371 225 134
49% 6% 10% 18% 11% 0% 6% 0%
Northwest Territories 74 46 20 74 15 26 7 89
21% 13% 6% 21% 4% 7% 2% 25%

This table also shows considerable variability in terms of the optional conditions imposed in different jurisdictions. Alcohol or drug treatment was ordered in approximately half the conditional sentence orders imposed in the province of Saskatchewan However, interpretation must proceed with caution. These differences may reflect variation in case characteristics, rather than variable judicial attitudes to the use of optional conditions.

3.6 Outcome of Orders to Date

It is still too early to come to any firm conclusions about the outcome of orders to date, as many are still running and only some jurisdictions have reported this kind of information. Nevertheless, some preliminary data are available. Of 6,244 orders resulted in a breach for a rate of exactly one in three. Systematic information is not available on the grounds for the breach. However, the limited information available shows that over half (56%) of the orders involved a breach of the compulsory conditions. It is important to point out that these are very preliminary data, and cannot be taken as representative of all conditional sentence orders imposed to date.

3.7 Judicial Response to breach

The statistical portrait is also incomplete for the judicial response to a breach of conditions. The data that are available show that in 30% of cases the offender is incarcerated for the duration of the order and in an additional 19% of cases the offender is incarcerated for a term that is less than the remaining duration. In 22% of cases the court elected to modify the optional conditions imposed and in 28% of cases no recorded action was taken.


[5] According to section 742… the court may order the offender to attend treatment. This element of the conditional sentence distinguishes it from a term of probation. According to section 732, a court may order an offender on probation to follow a program of treatment but only if the offenders gives his or her consent.

Date modified: