In Canada, the phrase “global sentence” is used to describe a single sentence that reflects the cumulative culpability for all offences on which the offender is sentenced.   (In the US, this type of aggregate sentence is termed a “unitary” sentence).

The practice of imposing a global sentence is generally discouraged outside of the context of reducing the total sentence for multiple count convictions to ensure that the sentence meets the totality principle. But even here, the sentencing judge begins by determining the appropriate sentence for each offence.

See R. v. Elliott, 2012 ABCA 214 (CanLII) at para 7 for a quick summary of sentencing in multiple count situations.

Judges should impose a sentence on each individual counts in order to determine the overall appropriate sentence.

See section 725(1)(a) of the Criminal Code.

This is so irrespective of whether the sentences are to be served consecutively or concurrently.

R. v. Taylor, 2010 MBCA 103 (CanLII), at para 10.

However, a failure to do so is not necessarily fatal.

In R. v. T.A.P., 2014 ONCA 141 (CanLII), the Court of Appeal for Ontario provided the following guidance:

[14]     The Criminal Code makes clear that, if it is possible and appropriate, sentencing judges ought to impose a sentence on each count as opposed to simply imposing one global sentence.  Section 725(1)(a) of the Criminal Code states that a court “shall consider, if it is possible and appropriate to do so, any other offences of which the offender was found guilty by the same court, and shall determine the sentence to be imposed for each of those offences.”

[15]      When a sentencing judge does nevertheless impose one global sentence for two or more counts, s. 728 of the Criminal Code applies.  Section 728 states:

Where one sentence is passed on a verdict of guilty on two or more counts of an indictment, the sentence is good if any of the counts would have justified the sentence.

[16]      Considered together, these two sections mean that sentence should be passed on each count on which an accused has been found guilty but a single global sentence on one or more counts will not be invalidated provided the sentence may be justified by any of the counts.

Thus, a single global sentence for multiple offences is not incompatible with Canadian law simply because individual sentences are not allocated for each offence.  However, the length of the global sentence must be justified by at least one of the counts.

Written by Stuart O’Connell (Barrister/Solicitor)