Consecutive sentences are served one after the other (i.e. when one sentence ends, the next one begins). In contrast, concurrent sentences merge sentences together, allowing an offender to serve multiple sentences at the same time.

The Criminal Code of Canada states that all sentences are concurrent unless the trial judge specifically orders the sentences to run consecutively. However, Ontario’s Provincial Offences Act reverses that inference and provides that sentences are consecutive unless otherwise ordered by the court.

Sentencing Considerations When Multiple Offences Occur in a Single Event

Canadian courts have stated that as a general rule, where multiple charges arise from a single event or involve ongoing crimes, their sentences should run concurrently. However, courts may decide that consecutive sentences are justified in some situations, particularly as offences arising from one single event may constitute invasions of different legally-protected interests. A consecutive sentence may be warranted where one charge has particularly aggravating factors or where the law specifically allows for consecutive sentences.

To determine whether the charges were part of a linked series of acts within a single event, courts will consider the entire context of the event, including:

  • The nature of the offences
  • The time and space in which the offences occurred
  • The harm caused to the victims or community
  • The accused’s role in the offences

In determining whether consecutive sentences are called for in a particular case, courts must ensure the global sentence follows the purposes of sentencing and the “totality principle”.

Purposes of Sentencing

The purposes of sentencing are set out in section 718 of the Criminal Code, which reads:

The fundamental purpose of sentencing is to contribute, along with crime prevention initiatives, to respect for the law and the maintenance of a just, peaceful and safe society by imposing just sanctions that have one or more of the following objectives:

  1. to denounce unlawful conduct;
  2. to deter the offender and other persons from committing offences;
  3. to separate offenders from society, where necessary;
  4. to assist in rehabilitating offenders;
  5. to provide reparations for harm done to victims or to the community; and
  6. to promote a sense of responsibility in offenders, and acknowledgment of the harm done to victims and to the community.

The Totality Principle

The totality principle is the requirement for a total combined sentence to be proportionate to the overall culpability of the offender. The principle applies even if the consecutive sentences relate to separate convictions arising at different times.

The totality principle is encompassed within section 718.2(c) of the Criminal Code, which states that where consecutive sentences are imposed, the combined sentence should not be unduly long or harsh. Sentencing must leave the offender with some hope of rehabilitation.

R. v. Jarvis: ONCA Confirms Consecutive Sentences Appropriate Given Aggravating Circumstances

A recent example of judicial discretion in ordering consecutive sentences is the case of R. v. Jarvis. The accused pled guilty to multiple firearms offences, as well as aggravated assault and failing to stop for police. The original sentencing judge ordered that the accused’s sentences would run consecutively and sentenced him to 13 years in custody with three years’ credit for time served. The accused appealed the sentences on the grounds that they should have been imposed concurrently and that they failed to balance the aggravating and mitigating factors.

The Ontario Court of Appeal noted the offence relating to the accused’s flight from police was particularly aggravating, and the sentence must act as a deterrence for this highly dangerous behaviour. The court raised the concern that concurrent sentences for this type of offence may lead offenders to believe that it is worth the risk to evade police. Therefore, it found that the sentencing judge did not err in imposing the sentences consecutively.

Application of the Totality Principle & Mitigating Factors

The Court of Appeal took note that the sentencing judge reduced the sentence relating to discharging a firearm with intent to endanger the life of the police officers to three years (out of a possible seven). In doing so, the sentencing judge applied the totality principle to avoid creating a sentence that was overly lengthy and was not harsh given the circumstances of the offence.

The sentencing judge was also found to have properly weighed the aggravating and mitigating factors of the case. The accused had no prior criminal record and committed the offences in a drug-induced psychosis. However, the Court of Appeal found that the sentences imposed were warranted given the discharge of the handgun and the infliction of “gratuitous violence” on the gunshot victim.

Contact Hicks Adams LLP in Toronto for Trustworthy Advice on Sentencing

Hicks Adams LLP has over 65 years of combined experience skillfully defending clients in criminal law matters. Our talented team of defence lawyers has extensive knowledge of sentencing laws and helps clients receive the best outcome possible at trial, in sentencing, and on appeal. We represent clients charged with a variety of offences, including assault and firearms charges.

Hicks Adams LLP is conveniently located in downtown Toronto and represents clients at all levels of court throughout Ontario. For a free criminal defence consultation on your matter, reach out online or call 416-975-1700 (toll-free at 1-877-975-1700).