Everything You Need to Know About Parole and Probation in Canada
If you are arrested and convicted of a serious criminal charge in Ontario, you will likely become familiar with probation or parole depending upon the sentence handed down by the court. The Greater Toronto Area criminal defence lawyers of Mass Tsang will tell you that you would rather become familiar with probation than parole, as the latter usually indicates that you have received a much harsher sentence than one handed down with probation.
In short, parole is granted as a conditional early release from a prison sentence, while probation often allows offenders to serve their sentence without incarceration or is otherwise used by judges to mitigate prison sentence duration. Some offenders sentenced to two-year’s or less of imprisonment become familiar with both terms as they will be eligible for parole. However, they might also have received post-incarceration probation as part of their sentence. Read on to learn more about what differentiates parole from probation.
Parole in Ontario is Under Both Federal and Provincial Jurisdiction
As noted, parole is a conditional early release from prison that allows offenders to serve the remainder of their sentences in the community, subject to conditions and supervision by a parole officer. Rather than reducing the offender’s sentence, parole is considered a change in how the sentence is served (i.e., replacing incarceration with controlled release within the community).
Parole is regulated under Canada’s Corrections and Conditional Release Act, which gives the Parole Board of Canada the authority to make conditional release decisions for all offenders serving two or more years of imprisonment. As one of three provinces with their own parole board, the Ontario Parole Board makes conditional release decisions on inmates in the province who are serving less than two-year prison terms.
Under the Act, most offenders become eligible for parole after serving one-third of their prison sentence or seven years, depending on which is less. The Act includes other eligibility rules for those serving life sentences for murder. It also includes statutory release provisions that automatically allow the conditional release to many offenders who do not make parole once they have served two-thirds of their sentences. Those convicted of first-degree murder are not eligible for statutory release and only become eligible for potential parole after serving 25 years of prison.
The federal and provincial parole boards have complete discretion in decision-making on the granting or denying of parole and are mandated to prioritize the protection of public safety in their decisions. In evaluating inmates for parole, the boards consider criminal history, offender remorse, potential release conditions, correctional institution behaviour and rehabilitative program participation. In granting parole, the panels can restrict where offenders are allowed to go and can impose numerous other conditions, including:
- Frequency of reporting to parole officers and/or local police.
- Serving some or all of their parole in a halfway house.
- Abstinence from alcohol and drugs.
- Maintaining employment.
- Avoid contact with victims, potential victim classes, and those involved in criminal activity.
Perhaps needless to say, offenders who violate the conditions of their conditional release face parole revocation and a return to prison to serve out the remainder of their original sentence. Offenders who commit new criminal acts also face parole revocation.
Probation May be Mandated or Discretionary
When included as terms of sentencing for a criminal conviction, probation is designed to allow an offender to serve either part or all of their sentence within the community, subject to conditions and supervision. Judges usually hand down probation sentences in lieu of prison sentences, but they can add a probation term to those sentenced to up to two years in prison. Probation is exclusively under the jurisdiction of provinces and cannot be assigned to those sentenced to more than two years in federal prison.
In Ontario, offenders who receive a conditional discharge, suspended sentence, or intermittent sentence are automatically placed on probation. Judges have the discretion to impose probation as part of sentencing that includes fines, and imprisonment terms of less than two years, with the probation term starting upon the offender’s release. Probation terms cannot exceed three years.
Offenders placed on probation with reporting conditions must regularly check in with their probation officer, with the frequency and timing either mandated by the judge or after an assessment by the probation office. Those without reporting conditions are often required to conform to other probation conditions as ordered by the judge. These conditions are typically designed to ensure that the offender does not commit additional offences and maintains good conduct.
Failing to comply with probation conditions is a criminal offence with a maximum penalty on summary conviction of 18 months in jail and/or a $5,000 fine. The maximum penalty is four years imprisonment when charged as an indictable offence. Additionally, those who received court-ordered probation due to a suspended sentence or conditional discharge may face revocation of the sentence if they fail to comply with probation terms or re-offend. If the Crown attorney makes an application for revocation of a suspended sentence, the court can impose any sentence that would have otherwise been imposed. With conditional discharges, the court can convict the offender on the original charge and impose an applicable sentence as it deems fit.
Turn to Toronto’s Mass Tsang for Your Criminal Defence
Naturally, you do not want your freedom restricted by probation, parole, or the oft-precursor of incarceration. If you’ve been charged with a serious criminal offence in the Greater Toronto Area, a skilled legal defence team represents your best option for avoiding the severe, freedom-limiting conditions that might come with a conviction. With a long track record of helping their clients secure favourable outcomes to their criminal charges, the criminal defence lawyers of Mass Tsang stand ready to help you strategize a winning criminal defence. To schedule your free consultation, contact Mass Tsang Today.