JustFacts

Offences Subject to a Mandatory Minimum Penalty

December 2016

Research and Statistics Division

This fact sheet presents information on criminal court cases where the most serious offence in the case is an offence subject to a mandatory minimum penalty.  Data was obtained through a request to the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics (CCJS) and covers the period between 2000/2001 and 2013/2014. The legislation related to the offences subject to an MMP include: An Act to amend the Criminal Code (protection of children and other vulnerable persons) and the Canada Evidence Act (2005), the Tackling Violent Crime Act (2008), An Act to amend the Criminal Code (organized crime and protection of justice system participants) (2009) and the Safe Streets and Communities Act (2012). Mandatory minimums for three subgroups of offences (i.e. child-related sexual offences, firearm-related offences and drug offences) were set and amended at different times throughout the 14 year study period. Child-related sexual offences comprised the largest proportion of MMP cases each year; therefore the overall MMP offence trends were influenced more heavily by the trends reported in the child-related sexual offence cases than any other type of MMP offence.

The number of casesFootnote 1  with an offence subject to an MMP as the most serious offence in the case increased

Between 2000/2001 and 2013/2014, the number of cases with an offence subject to an MMP increased 103%, from 1,838 to 3,742.Coinciding with the enactment of An Act to amend the Criminal Code (protection of children and other vulnerable persons) and the Canada Evidence Act (2005), the number of cases with an offence subject to an MMP increased by 32% from 2005/2006 (2,172) to 2008/2009 (2,868). From 2008/2009, around the time of the Tackling Violent Crime Act (2008), and An Act to amend the Criminal Code (organized crime and protection of justice system participants) (2009), until 2011/2012 the number of cases was relatively steady.  The number of cases then jumped by 19% between 2011/2012 and 2012/2013, from 3,031 to 3,620. This increase, which was the largest one-year increase in the 14 year period, coincides with the enactment of the Safe Streets and Communities Act (2012). There was also a small increase (3%) in the final study year (3,742 cases in 2013/2014).

Cases with a child-related sexual offence comprise more than half of all cases with an MMP offence

A child-related sexual offence was the most serious offence in the case in half (50%) of all cases with an MMP offence over the 14 year period. This percentage changed significantly around the time of the Safe Streets and Communities Act (2012) from 47% in 2011/2012 to 60% in 2012/2013 and then to 64% in 2013/2014.

Cases with a firearm-related offence as the most serious in the case comprised a quarter (24%) of all cases with an MMP offence over the 14 year period. This proportion, however, dropped significantly over time from 32% in 2000/2001 to 15% in 2013/2014.

The remaining cases were Controlled Drug and Substances Act (CDSA) offences (26%). CDSA offences comprised the smallest proportion of all cases in 2000/2001 (12%) and they remained the least common offence type until 2006/2007, when 29% of offences were CDSA offences (compared to 28% firearm-related and 43% child sex offence-related). CDSA offences comprised the second-largest proportion of offences for the remainder of the study period, peaking at 35% in 2008/2009 and then dropping to 20% in 2013/2014.

The proportion of cases with a guilty decision decreased slightly

Between 2000/2001 and 2013/2014, cases with an offence subject to an MMP most frequently had a guilty decision. Between 2000/2001 and 2011/2012, the proportion of guilty decisions ranged between 62% and 66%. The last two fiscal years (2012/2013 and 2013/2014) saw a decrease, with 54% and 55% of cases having a guilty decision, respectively. There were corresponding increases in acquitted, stayed and withdrawn decisions.

The proportion of cases with a guilty decision receiving a custody sentence increased

Throughout the study period, the most serious sentence for MMP cases with a guilty decision was custody (69% on average). The proportion of guilty cases sentenced to custody remained between 51% and 57% from 2000/2001 to 2005/2006. Around the time of enactment of An Act to amend the Criminal Code (protection of children and other vulnerable persons) and the Canada Evidence Act (2005), the proportion of guilty cases sentenced to custody began increasing, reaching a peak of 85% in 2013/2014, with corresponding decreases in conditional sentences and probation. Since offences punishable by an MMP are not eligible for conditional sentences, the 2005 legislation which set MMPs for most child-related sexual offences may partially explain the increase in custody sentences for offences subject to an MMP after this time.

The length of custody sentences decreased

The median length of custodial sentences for cases with an offence subject to an MMP was variable over time and this is likely due to the wide variety of offences punishable with an MMP. Overall, the median length of custodial sentences dropped over the 14 year period, however there are distinct trends in the data that coincide with the enactment of MMP legislative amendments.

The highest median custodial sentence lengths during the study period were in 2000/2001, 2001/2002 and 2003/2004 (360 days) followed by 300 days in 2002/2003, 2004/2005 and 2005/2006. The median began dropping around the time of the enactment of An Act to amend the Criminal Code (protection of children and other vulnerable persons) and the Canada Evidence Act (2005) from 300 days to a low of 180 days in 2007/2008 through to 2011/2012 (a 40% decrease). Around the time of the Safe Streets and Communities Act (2012) the median custodial sentence length once again increased to 240 days in 2012/2013 and 259 days 2013/2014 (a 43% increase from 2011/2012 to 2013/2014). (See Chart 1 below).

Chart 1. Median length of custodial sentences, in days, of all cases with an offence subject to an MMP that received custody as the most serious sentence

Chart 1 described below

Note: The vertical lines indicate the years the following legislation was enacted: An Act to amend the Criminal Code (protection of children and other vulnerable persons) and the Canada Evidence Act (2005-grey line), the Tackling Violent Crime Act (2008-blue line), An Act to amend the Criminal Code (organized crime and protection of justice system participants) (2009-black line) and the Safe Streets and Communities Act (2012-red line).

Text version: Chart 1. Median length of custodial sentences, in days, of all cases with an offence subject to an MMP that received custody as the most serious sentence

A horizontal time-series chart illustrates the median custodial sentence lengths for criminal court cases in which the most serious offence in the case was an offence subject to a mandatory minimum penalty, and for which the offender received a custody sentence. The Y axis is measured in number of days and increases in increments of 50 from zero to 400. The X axis lists every fiscal year from 2000/2001 to 2013/2014. The median custodial sentence lengths in fiscal years 2000/2001, 2001/2002 and 2003/2004 is 360 days; this is the highest median length of custody over the 14 year period. The median length of custody drops from 300 days in 2005/2006 to 240 days in in 2006/2007 and then to 180 days in 2007/2008, which is the lowest point over the 14 years. Median custody length stays at 180 from 2007/2008 to 2011/2012 and then increases again to 240 days in 2012/2013 and to 259 in 2013/14. There are coloured vertical lines on the chart that indicate the years legislation related to MMPs were enacted. An Act to amend the Criminal Code (protection of children and other vulnerable persons) and the Canada Evidence Act (2005) is represented by a grey line at fiscal year 2005/2006; the Tackling Violent Crime Act (2008) is represented by a blue line at fiscal year 2008/2009; An Act to amend the Criminal Code (organized crime and protection of justice system participants) (2009) is represented by a black line at fiscal year 2009/2010 and the Safe Streets and Communities Act (2012) is represented by a red line at fiscal year 2012/2013.

Over the 14 year period, the majority (78%), of custodial sentences fell under the two year mark while the remaining 22% were over two years, however there is a general trend towards a decreasing proportion of custodial sentence lengths falling into the 2+ year category.Footnote 2 The proportion of cases that fell above the two year mark decreased from 26% in 2000/2001 to 21% in 2013/2014, with the lowest points seen in 2008/2009 (16%) and 2011/2012 (18%). There were also small drops in 2005/2006, 2007/2008 and 2009/2010 (to 19%). The fiscal years with the highest proportion of cases with custodial sentences of 2+ years were in 2002/2003 and 2003/2004 (28%), before the enactment of any of the recent MMP legislation (See Chart 2 below).

Two of the decreases coincide with the enactment of MMP legislation, in particular the Act to amend the Criminal Code (protection of children and other vulnerable persons) (2005) and the Tackling Violent Crime Act (2008).

Chart 2. Proportion of cases with an offence subject to an MMP as the most serious in the case that received custody as the most serious sentence, by custody range

Chart 2 described below

Note: The vertical lines indicate the years the following legislation was enacted: An Act to amend the Criminal Code (protection of children and other vulnerable persons) and the Canada Evidence Act (2005-grey line), the Tackling Violent Crime Act (2008-blue line), An Act to amend the Criminal Code (organized crime and protection of justice system participants) (2009-black line) and the Safe Streets and Communities Act (2012-red line).

Text version: Chart 2. Proportion of cases with an offence subject to an MMP as the most serious in the case that received custody as the most serious sentence, by custody range

A horizontal time-series chart illustrates the custodial sentence ranges for criminal court cases in which the most serious offence in the case was an offence subject to a mandatory minimum penalty, and for which the offender received a custody sentence. The Y axis is measured in percentage of cases in increments of 10 from 10% to 90%. The X axis lists every fiscal year from 2000/2001 to 2013/2014. There are two time-series on the chart. One represents custodial sentence ranges that are less than two years. The other represents custodial sentence ranges that are two years or more.

The line representing less than two years stays above the 70% mark over the course of the 14 year period, while the line representing two years or more stays under 30%. In the first four fiscal years, from 2000/2001 to 2004/2005, the proportion of custodial sentences that are less than two years stays between 72% and 74%, and begins slowly increasing to a high of 84% by 2008/2009. By 2013/2014, the proportion of custodial sentence that are less than two years decreases to 79%. Custodial sentence lengths over two years follow an equal but opposite trend. There are coloured vertical lines on the chart that indicate the years legislation related to MMPs were enacted. An Act to amend the Criminal Code (protection of children and other vulnerable persons) and the Canada Evidence Act (2005) is represented by a grey line at fiscal year 2005/2006; the Tackling Violent Crime Act (2008) is represented by a blue line at fiscal year 2008/2009; An Act to amend the Criminal Code (organized crime and protection of justice system participants) (2009) is represented by a black line at fiscal year 2009/2010 and the Safe Streets and Communities Act (2012) is represented by a red line at fiscal year 2012/2013.

Time to case resolution has increased

The median case processing time (how long it takes for a case to be resolved) shows a general increasing trend over time. Between 2000/2001 and 2013/2014, the number of days from first appearance to decision increased 54%, from 208 days to 321 days. In comparison, the time to case resolution for all adult criminal court cases was 123 days in 2013/2014, which has remained stable since 2005/2006 (the earliest publicly available data) when the median was 124 days.Footnote 3

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