The final portion of the Safe Streets and Communities Act came into force on Tuesday. While not changing the requirements for a conditional sentence to be granted, house arrest can no longer be imposed for serious or violent offences.
Tuesday, Justice Minister and Attorney General of Canada Rob Nicholson announced the final section of the Safe Streets and Communities Act is now in force. Nicholson said, "Our Government has a strong record of putting victims first, getting tough on serious and violent offenders, and keeping our streets and communities safe. House arrest should not be available for offenders of serious crimes like sexual assault, kidnapping, and human trafficking. Those who commit these violent crimes must serve their time behind bars, not in the comfort of their homes and that is exactly the issue this legislation corrects."
Under section 742.1 of the Criminal Code of Canada, conditional sentences could be granted when a court decided the punishment for the offender and the offence was a jail sentence of less than two years. The only exceptions were for an offence that involved serious personal injury, a terrorism offence, or the offence of being part of a criminal organization. Once the court decided on a jail sentence of less than two years, it could be made conditional if the judge was satisfied that such a sentence would not endanger the community and the sentence imposed would be consistent with the fundamental purposes of principles of justice. If these factors were met, the offender would be allowed to serve his or her sentence at home and be bound by conditions that could include leaving home to work or go to school.
The concept of conditional sentences was introduced into Canadian law in 1996 by the previous Liberal government. The purpose of such sentences was to reduce overcrowding in Canada's prisons. But one of the difficulties with house arrest is the court must be satisfied the offender should go to jail before he or she can avoid incarceration.
While the principles governing conditional sentences have not changed, the amendments that came into effect yesterday reduce the number of offences for which a person can be sentenced to house arrest. Any offence punishable by up to 14 years in jail or life imprisonment is now ineligible. Previously conditional sentences for manslaughter, which has a maximum of life but no minimum punishment, were sometimes handed down.
Any indictable offence that has a maximum punishment of 10 years in prison cannot be eligible for a conditional sentence if it involves bodily harm, importing, exporting, trafficking or production of drugs, or a weapon.
Other offences having a maximum sentence of 10 years can be listed as an offence where house arrest cannot be imposed. Currently these listed offences include theft over $5,000, theft of a motor vehicle, break and enter, and trafficking in persons.
The Safe Streets and Communities Act was introduced on Sept. 20, 2011 and received Royal Assent on March 13, 2012.