Sentencing in Canada: Current Issues and Concluding Thoughts

AuthorJulian Roberts and David Cole
Sentencing in Canada: Current
Issues and Concluding Thoughts
Julian Roberts and David Cole
No single volume can address all the challenges confronting the sen-
tencing process. is nal chapter discusses several current topics not
fully explored in previous chapters: ethnicity and sentencing; plea-
based sentence discounts; and credit for pretrial custody. We conclude
with an issue that has disappeared from public, professional, and schol-
arly view in Canada: guidance for courts at sentencing.
ere is growing attention in many countries to the role of race and
ethnicity in criminal justice decision making, including sentencing.
One key question, then, is the extent to which sentencing in Can-
ada falls disproportionately upon ethnic or racial minorities. e
For discussion of sentencing issues and challenges and suggestions for reform, readers
are directed to an interesting collection of papers commissioned and published by the
Department of Justice Canada in  and available on the department’s website at
Canada, Department of Justice, “Transforming the Criminal Justice System” ( August
), online:, as well as Julian V
Roberts & Howard Bebbington, “Sentencing Reform in Canada: Promoting a Return to
Principles and Evidence-Based Policy” ()  Canadian Criminal Law Review .
Sentencing in Canada: Current Issues and Concluding Thoughts | 391
over-incarceration of Indigenous Canadians is well known (see Chap-
ter , where the issue is discussed by Kent Roach and Jonathan Rudin);
the use of incarceration with respect to other minorities is less well
documented. Statistics Canada publishes no comparable annual data
on the treatment of ethnic or visible minorities at sentencing. is
decit in documentation is regrettable; without collecting this kind of
data (at least periodically), there is no way of knowing whether Black
or other visible minorities are subject to dierential treatment by Can-
ada’s courts. Wortley and Owusu-Bempah noted in  that “research
on racial dierences in sentencing is at an early stage in Canada.” Little
has changed since then.
e limited statistics that are available suggest that in some parts
of the country, Black individuals are overrepresented in prison sta-
tistics. For example, limited statistics from  show that while less
than  percent of Canadians self-identify as Black, visible minority and
Black individuals each accounted for  percent of admissions to fed-
eral custody. Older research upon sentencing patterns, conducted for
the Ontario Commission on Racism in the Criminal Justice System in
, found evidence of dierential sentencing, for certain oences at
least. Race played a signicant role in the sentencing of drug oences,
The heated debate on the collection of crime and criminal justice statistics that took
place in the mid-s may be one reason why Statistics Canada does not routinely
record and publish these data. See the special April  issue of the Canadian Journal
of Criminology for competing perspectives on the issue: ()  Canadian Journal of
Criminology, as well as Akwasi Owusu-Bempah & Paul Millar, “Revisiting the Collection of
‘Justice Statistics by Race’ in Canada” ()  Canadian Journal of Law and Society .
Scot Wortley & Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, “Race, Ethnicity, Crime, and Criminal Justice in
Canada” in Anita Kalumpta-Crumpton, ed, Race, Ethnicity, Crime and Criminal Justice
in the Americas (London: Palgrave Macmillan, ) .
See Canada, Department of Justice, The Impact of Mandatory Minimum Penalties on
Indigenous, Black and Other Visible Minorities (September ) at , online: JustFacts/docs/oct.pdf [Canada, Department of
Justice, The Impact of Mandatory Minimum Penalties].
See the conclusions in Ontario, Commission on Systemic Racism in the Ontario
Criminal Justice System, Report of the Commission on Systemic Racism in the Ontario
Criminal Justice System (Toronto: Queen’s Printer for Ontario, ), online: https:///.pdf [Ontario, Report of the Commission on
Systemic Racism].

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