Maximum and Minimum Sentences

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Statutory Minimum

The Criminal Code give judges a wide range of sentencing options that are to be guided by the sentencing principles rather than constrained by sentencing grids and minimums as occurs in other countries.[1] Judicial discretion is a "central feature of the sentencing process in Canada."[2]

Effect of Minimum on Range of Sentence
It has been agreed upon by several courts that mandatory minimums act as an "inflationary floor" and sets a new minimum punishment for the best offender.[3]

The mininum "introduces a higher starting point" which creates "a narrower range" within which sentencing principles operate. [4]

When Minimums are Applied
It would be wrong to impose the minimum on the least culpable offender in the least serious circumstances and then provide the same sentence upon someone who is more culpable and for a more serious offence where they would have received that sentence under the old regime.[5]

Raised minimums should not create a standard sentence to be "imposed on all but the very worst offender ... in the very worst circumstances".[6]

Minimums cannot be applied retrospectively.[7]

Remand Credit
Section 719(3) permits taking into account remand credit to sentence, and can have the effect of bringing a sentence below the mandatory minimum penalty.[8]

  1. R v Thurairajah, 2008 ONCA 91 (CanLII) at para 26
  2. Thurairajah
  3. R v Morrisey, 2000 SCC 39 (CanLII) at para 75 - discussed in minority decision
    R v Colville, 2005 ABCA 319 (CanLII) at paras 21-26
    R v Ferguson, 2006 ABCA 261 (CanLII) at para 71-72, 85
    R v BCM, 2008 BCCA 365 (CanLII)
    R v Newman, 2009 NLCA 32 (CanLII)
    R v Hammond, 2009 ABCA 415 (CanLII) at para 8
  4. BCM, supra at para 31
  5. BCM, supra at para 56
  6. Morrisey, supra at para 75
  7. R v Serdyuk, 2012 ABCA 205 (CanLII)
  8. R v Wust, 2000 SCC 18 (CanLII), [2000] 1 SCR 455
    R v Arrance, 2000 SCC 20 (CanLII), [2000] 1 SCR 488
    R v Arthurs, 2000 SCC 19 (CanLII), [2000] 1 SCR 481

Notice for Minimum Sentences under the CDSA

8 The court is not required to impose a minimum punishment unless it is satisfied that the offender, before entering a plea, was notified of the possible imposition of a minimum punishment for the offence in question and of the Attorney General’s intention to prove any factors in relation to the offence that would lead to the imposition of a minimum punishment.
2012, c. 1, s. 42.


Constitutionality of Minimums

See also: Constitutional Challenges to Legislation

Certain mandatory minimums have been held to be unconstitutional:

  • section 95 mandatory minimum of 3 years[1]
  • s. 5(3)(a)(i)(D) of the CDSA for trafficking.[2]

Others have been upheld:

  1. R v Nur, 2015 SCC 15 (CanLII)
  2. R v Lloyd, 2014 BCCA 224 (CanLII) upheld 2016 SCC 13 (CanLII)
  3. R v Abdullahi, 2014 ONSC 272 (CanLII)

Consequence of Unconstitutional Minimums

Where a mandatory minimum was found unconstitutional, the removal of a minimum "doe snot operate to diminish the whole previously established sentencing pattern" proportionate to the previous minimum.[1] The removal of the floor will have some "ameliorating effect" on sentencing but not a "wholesale" reduction, which would otherwise defeat the parliamentary intent to characterize the offence as serious.[2]

However, elimination of minimums "permits the court to treat the less serious cases less seriously".[3]

  1. R v Mediratta (1988), 29 OAC 333 at p. 334 per Zuber JA
  2. Mediratta, ibid. at p. 334
  3. R v Saulnier, 1987 CanLII 2414 (BC CA) at para 6 per Seaton JA.

Statutory Maximums

The maximum available sentence for a given offence will be provided within the provisions defining the offence.

Given the distinction between summary offences and indictable offences, the maximum penalties for summary offences will always be less than indictable.

It is generally stated that the maximum penalty is not simply reserved for the "worst of the worst" offenders.[1] All relevant factors must be considered and should only be considered appropriate where the "offence is of sufficient gravity and the offender displays sufficient blameworthiness".[2]

To impose a maximum sentence it is necessary for the judge to take into account pre-sentence custody otherwise the sentence is effectively beyond the statutory maximum.[3]

Summary Conviction Offences
Where an offence is described as punishable by "summary conviction", section 787(1) states the punishment will be a fine of no more than $5,000 and/or 6 months jail unless the offence specifies otherwise.

General penalty
787. (1) Unless otherwise provided by law, everyone who is convicted of an offence punishable on summary conviction is liable to a fine of not more than five thousand dollars or to a term of imprisonment not exceeding six months or to both.
R.S., 1985, c. C-46, s. 787; R.S., 1985, c. 27 (1st Supp.), s. 171; 2008, c. 18, s. 44.


Other available summary offence maximums include 18 months jail.[4]

However, under s. 735 where the accused is an organization, the summary conviction fine amount increases to $100,000.

On summary elections for hybrid offences, the court is bound by the maximum range set by parliament. However, the courts should not "scale up" or "scale down" the sentences due to the election.[5]

Indictable Offences
The maximum for indictable offences will always be specified in the provisions. The code will specify a maximum of 2, 5, 10, 14 years jail or life.

  1. R v Solowan, 2008 SCC 62 (CanLII), [2008] 3 SCR 309
    R v L.M., 2008 SCC 31 (CanLII), [2008] 2 SCR 163
  2. R v Cheddesingh,2004 SCC 16 (CanLII), [2004] 1 SCR 433
  3. R v Severight, 2014 ABCA 25 (CanLII)
  4. e.g. s. 253, 264.1
    Offences by Penalty
  5. Solowan, supra

See Also