Dangerous offender designation

The Dangerous Offender provisions of the Criminal Code are intended to protect all Canadians from the most dangerous violent and sexual predators in the country. Individuals convicted of these offences can be designated as a Dangerous Offender during sentencing if a sentencing court is satisfied that the offender constitutes a threat to the life, safety or physical or mental well-being of the public. Where an offender is designated by the court as a Dangerous Offender, the offender may be sentenced to an indeterminate sentence of imprisonment.

History of the legislation

Canada introduced its first high-risk offender laws in 1947, when Parliament amended the Criminal Code to give the courts the authority to designate certain repeat offenders as "habitual offenders." Under those provisions, offenders who had been convicted of three or more separate indictable offences and who were "persistently leading a criminal life" could be found to be habitual offenders and sentenced to indeterminate imprisonment.

In 1948, Parliament again amended the Code, this time to make provision for a "dangerous sexual offender" designation. Under those provisions, the courts could impose the designation and indeterminate imprisonment on an offender convicted of a listed sexual offence if two psychiatrists testified that he/she was sexually dangerous.

Over the next three decades, the habitual offender and criminal sexual psychopath provisions were the subjects of considerable criticism, study and analysis. In 1969, the Canadian Committee on Corrections (the Ouimet Committee) recommended a total overhaul of the regime.

Current scheme

Responding to the Ouimet report and other developments, Parliament repealed the habitual offender and the dangerous sexual offender rules in 1977 and introduced the current dangerous offender system in Part XXIV of the Criminal Code. In 1997, the Parliament amended the Criminal Code to introduce the "long-term offender" designation and a variety of related adjustments.

Peace bonds, also known as "recognizances," "judicial restraint orders," and "sureties to keep the peace," have existed in Canadian criminal law since 1892. Initially, the law simply allowed individuals to seek a restraining order if he/she feared that someone was a threat to him/herself or their families. In the 1990s, three additional types of orders were introduced. They allow criminal justice officials and others to ask the courts to impose conditions on an individual if there are reasonable fears that the individual will commit a criminal organization or terrorism offence, a sexual offence against someone under the age of 16 years, or a "serious personal injury offence."

Significant changes to the high-risk offender provisions were contained in The Tackling Violent Crime Bill that  came into force on July 2, 2008. The reforms include these provisions:

  • An offender who gets a third conviction for a primary designated violent or sexual crime that should result in a sentence of at least two years is now presumed to be a dangerous offender, if two previous convictions each resulted in a sentence of two years or more. The offender is given an opportunity to show why he or she should not be designated a dangerous offender;
  • When an individual is convicted for a third time of a "designated offence", the Crown prosecutor has a duty to confirm to the court that a dangerous offender application has been considered;
  • Where the court is satisfied that the offender meets the Dangerous Offender criteria in section 753, in all cases the individual will be designated a Dangerous Offender. The designation is for life.
  • Once designated as a Dangerous Offender, the court will impose a sentence that must ensure public safety, which can be either;
    • An indeterminate sentence of imprisonment, with no chance of parole for 7 years;
    • A regular sentence of imprisonment for the offence, plus a Long-term Supervision Order in the community of up to 10 years after the regular sentence has expired; or,
    • A regular sentence of imprisonment for the offence.
  • An individual who is designated as a dangerous offender but does not receive an indeterminate sentence of imprisonment will be subject to a re-determination of the indeterminate sentence if that individual subsequently breaches a condition of their Long-term Supervision Order or commits another serious personal injury offence. The Crown will not have to satisfy the court that the offender is a dangerous offender for the latest offence;
  • The duration of peace bonds placed on individuals who are a high-risk to commit sexual and/or violent offences and who have been convicted of such offences in the past has been increased from one to two years; and
  • The conditions that can be imposed under peace bonds have been expanded to include residency, electronic monitoring, treatment and others.

For more information:

The Investigation, Prosecution and Correctional Management of High-Risk Offenders:  A National Guide