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Canada: Government Bill Would Limit Conditional Sentences

(July 13, 2009) Since assuming power in 2006, the current Conservative government of Canada, led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, has introduced a number of bills to reform the national Criminal Code (R.S.C. c. C-46 (1985), as amended, available at that are designed to crack down on abuses, loopholes, and other perceived weaknesses in Canadian criminal law and enforcement. The latest such bill to be introduced proposes to restrict the use of conditional sentencing in cases where the accused has been found guilty of serious property crime or violent crime.

At present, judges can allow a person sentenced to less than two years' imprisonment to be conditionally released into the community, unless the offense carries a mandatory period of imprisonment. The bill introduced by the government would prohibit the handing down of conditional sentences for any offense for which the law prescribes a maximum penalty of at least 14 years; any offense for which the law prescribes a maximum penalty of at least ten years if it resulted in bodily harm, involved trafficking in drugs, or involved the use of a weapon; and listed offenses. Among the listed offenses are theft of property valued above Can$5,000, auto theft, breaking and entering, and arson. (Ending Conditional Sentences for Property and Other Serious Crimes, Bill C-42, 40th Parl. 2nd Sess., available at

The introduction of Bill C-42 is part of the government's strategy of making its “tough on crime” record a centerpiece of its election platform in the election that most experts believe will take place this fall. Prime Minister Harper has often pointed out that most of his government's reform bills have been held up in committees controlled by the three opposition parties that hold a slim majority of seats in the House of Commons. The leader of the second largest opposition group, the Liberal Party, has denied being soft on crime and has accused the Conservatives of dividing the country through their approach to criminal law reform. Nevertheless, polls show that the majority of the electorate favors the types of measures the government has proposed to combat increases in certain types of property and drug-related crimes. (Ignatieff and PM Square Off on Attack Ads, Crime in Stampede Speeches, THE GLOBE AND MAIL, July 5, 2009, available at