Principles and Politics: Sentencing and Imprisonment Policy in Canada

AuthorCheryl Marie Webster and Anthony N Doob
Principles and Politics: Sentencing
and Imprisonment Policy in Canada
Cheryl Marie Webster and Anthony N Doob*
In , the th Parliament, st Session, passed Bill C-. is legis-
lative proposal was the rst of its kind in Canada, introducing com-
prehensive sentencing reform that was expected to change the way in
which judges approached sentencing. Set in motion by several of the
recommendations made by the Canadian Sentencing Commission in
* Parts of this chapter and much of the data presented in the f‌igures are drawn from
some of our previous writings, most notably Doob & Webster  and a forthcoming
publication, as well as Webster & Doob , , , , , and .
Preparation of this chapter was aided by a grant to Cheryl Marie Webster from the
Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.
An Act to Amend the Criminal Code (Sentencing) and other Acts in consequence
thereof, st Sess, th Parl,  (assented to  July , proclaimed in force  Sep-
tember ), SC , c  [Bill C-].
David Daubney & Gordon Parry, “An Overview of Bill C- (The Sentencing Reform
Act)” in Julian V Roberts and David P Cole, eds, Making Sense of Sentencing (Toronto:
University of Toronto Press, ) at .
Canadian Sentencing Commission, Sentencing Reform: A Canadian Approach (Ottawa:
Supply and Services Canada, ) at , online:
uploads///-KE--A-C--J.R.-Omer-Archambault.pdf [CSC,
Sentencing Reform].
Principles and Politics: Sentencing and Imprisonment Policy in Canada | 339
 and reecting proposals made in two previous sentencing bills (in
 and ) that did not become law, this Bill formalized sentencing
principles and procedures for the rst time. In fact, a new section in
the Criminal Code was created (part XXIII) that was dedicated exclu-
sively to sentencing. More broadly, a series of reforms was introduced
to deal with sentencing in a coherent manner.
It would be easy to believe that this new legislation was a turn-
ing point in the history of sentencing policy in Canada. It was not.
ere was little in that legislation that was new, other than, perhaps, a
few provisions such as the conditional sentence of imprisonment a
sentencing option that not only was seriously awed (as evidenced,
perhaps, by the number of times it had to be amended soon after it
became law) but also almost certainly failed to achieve its purpose.
Furthermore, important principles such as proportionality in senten-
cing were clearly not new either. Nor was the idea that imprisonment
should be used sparingly.
What was new, however, was that for the rst time, sentencing
policy was laid down as law in the Criminal Code. Within this context,
it would be easy to believe that by laying out the principles to guide
sentencing in legislation, these principles would serve as a guide to
Parliament on future amendments to sentencing law. In other words,
people might be led to believe, perhaps, that the new part XXIII of the
Criminal Code would provide the foundation that would guide further
development of sentencing law in Canada. at, too, would be wrong.
As the late Jean-Paul Brodeur pointed out:
e statement of the purpose of sentencing [in s. ] is convoluted
and ultimately self-defeating. It introduces a spurious distinction
between the purpose of sentencing and the objectives of criminal
sanctions. . . . e list of objectives . . . is an inconsistent collection of
the utilitarian goals of sentencing, denunciation, which is central to
Cheryl Marie Webster & Anthony N Doob, “Missed Opportunities: A Postmortem on
Canada’s Experience with the Conditional Sentence” ()  Law and Contempor-
ary Problems .
RSC , c C- [Criminal Code].

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