Recent Changes and Guidance from the Supreme Court of Canada
In recent years, the Supreme Court of Canada has made several important changes to how sexual assault cases are prosecuted in Canada. Sexual assault and the impacts of sexual violence on victims was brought to the forefront of our society in 2017 with the MeToo movement. This movement changed the way many sexual assault victims were treated by the justice system and is continuing to change the way our courts handle such offences.
In 2020, 10 of the 26 criminal cases on the docket for the Supreme Court involved sexual offences. In deciding these cases, the Supreme Court sent a strong message to the justice system; the sentences for those convicted of sexual offences involving children must increase. Ranges have pushed up considerably to mid-reformatory sentences, even with a guilty plea.
In recent years, the federal government has enacted legislation enhancing the maximum penalties for offenders convicted of sexual offences involving children. Offences of this nature have become among the most serious offences Canadian’s can be charged with which is now reflected in the sentencing guidelines.
In the 2019 Supreme Court case R. v. Friesen, the Supreme Court opined that since the maximum penalties for those convicted of sexual offences against children have increased, so too should the sentences imposed on offenders.
The Court provided a non-exhaustive list of factors that should be considered when determining the appropriate sentence for an offender. The list included whether or not the accused felt remorse for their actions, whether they had insight into their behaviour, and whether there was a high risk of recidivism. The Court also provided a sentencing range of upper single digit to lower double digit prison sentences for those convicted.
The decision indicates that the length of the average sentence for an offender convicted of a sexual offence against a child is likely to increase in the future. If you have been accused of a sexual offence against a child, it is important to ensure your rights are protected from the outset due to the very serious implications that will result from a conviction.