A Values and Evidence Approach to Sentencing Purposes and Principles


Sentencing purposes and the principles that guide sentences are a reflection of the values of the society that imposes these sentences. Sentences are, by their very nature, punishments. The nature of the punishments that are imposed by the state, as well as the quantity of the punishments that are imposed for certain acts, reflect the values of that society.

Canada no longer has corporal or capital punishment. But, in historical terms, it was not long ago that we had both: Canada’s last legal execution took place in December 1962. Although the whipping of prisoners was fairly common between 1957 and 1967 – 333 recorded instances took place during that period – the last recorded legal use of the lash on a prisoner in a Canadian penitentiary occurred in October 1968.Footnote 2 The reason we no longer whip or hang people is not that we ran out of leather or rope. Rather, it is because those punishments are no longer congruent with Canadian values. Sentencing, then, is all about values. Hence to understand what should be contained in the statement of the Purpose and Principles of Sentencing in the Criminal Code, we need to understand Canadian values with respect to sentencing. And to understand Canadians’ values on sentencing, we have to look first at our history.

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