Probation is an essential part of Canada’s criminal justice system, and probation rules are designed to ensure the public is kept safe and the law is upheld while also providing latitude for offenders who don’t pose a risk to others to be kept out of the prison system.

This means that probation rules in Canada are designed to strike the right balance between allowing offenders a fair chance to get their lives back on track while also making sure they don’t reoffend.

There is a common misunderstanding that probation is an alternative to sentencing, but in fact probation is a specific type of sentencing, albeit one that is often seen as being more lenient than a prison sentence.

As one might expect, probation rules can be rather complex, and those who want to avoid breach of probation need to be aware of how probation rules apply to their particular case. To help clarify how this system works, this article will outline when probation can be used, what probation involves, and how Canada’s legal system deals with breach of probation.

When is Probation Used?

As noted above, probation is used as an alternative to jail, allowing offenders to remain at large in their communities so long as they abide by the probation rules set by the probation order.

It is often accompanied by a fine, in lieu of a jail sentence, and is frequently used in the event of a conditional, intermittent, or suspended sentence (with intermittent sentences, two probation orders are often used: first for the period of the sentence to ensure compliance, and second for the period following the completion of the sentence).

Probation is also a tool for monitoring offenders after they have finished a jail sentence to ensure they do not re-offend as soon as they have been released back into the public. Recent convicts are often required to maintain contact with their probation officer for a set period of time while they reintegrate back into society.

While there may be many similarities between probation and the bail conditions handed down as part of a bail hearing these are distinct processes — bail conditions are put in place during the time leading up to a trial, whereas probation rules are put in place as part of sentencing.

It is especially common in cases involving young offenders, with juvenile probation rules usually be designed to ensure that the offender continues to participate in education or the workforce so as to reduce the risk of recidivism.

What Do Probation Rules in Canada Involve?

The nature of the probation rules handed down in a particular case are dependent on the nature of the case itself.

For example, someone charged with impaired driving may be required to abstain from the consumption of alcohol or cannabis as part of their probation rules or parole conditions, and an individual charged with domestic violence will usually receive a probation order prohibiting them from contacting the person who they are accused of assaulting.

While on probation, individuals must maintain contact with their probation officer and keep them informed about any change of address or employment.

In both cases, the probation rules are designed to protect other members of the public from reckless behaviour and to ensure a degree of accountability to keep the offender from falling back into negative patterns of behaviour.

A distinction is made between probation rules for adults and juvenile probation rules taking into account the unique circumstances faced by young offenders.

How Long Do Probation Orders Last?

According to Canadian law, a probation order cannot last longer than three years, and probation orders cannot run consecutively (though they can run concurrently). This means that if you are charged with domestic violence and impaired violence, you may receive probation orders barring you from contacting an accuser or consuming alcohol, but these orders will overlap during the period in which they are active.

While three years is the maximum length of time probation rules can remain in force, the court can choose to terminate, reduce, or revoke a probation order at any point during this period. Typically, this happens when the court is satisfied that you are no longer in danger of re-offending or committing another offence.

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What Happens if You Break Probation Rules?

To break probation rules in Canada is not considered a criminal offence, but rather an Offence Against the Administration of Justice. But this distinction should not lead you to believe that breach of probation isn’t a serious matter: depending on the circumstances, it can lead to jail time and a criminal charge.

Typically, there are two ways an individual can break probation rules: by failing to abide by the probation rules or parole conditions (for example, by contacting someone the court has ordered you not to contact, or by failing to meet with your probation officer) or by committing another criminal offence while still on probation.

But probation violation is an umbrella term that also covers things like:

  • Failure to appear in court
  • Escape of lawful custody
  • Obstruction of justice
  • Obstruction of the police
  • Resisting arrest
  • Assaulting an officer of the peace

If you are found guilty of breach of probation in Ontario you can be found guilty of one of the following:

  • An offence punishable on summary conviction that includes a fine of up to $5,000 and/or a jail sentence of up to 18 months
  • An indictable offence carrying a jail sentence of up to four years

However, just because you have been charged with a violation of Ontario’s probation rules does not mean you will be found guilty. The law allows for judicial discretion in the event that there is a reasonable excuse for violating the probation rules, so it is important to seek legal counsel from a criminal defence lawyer in Toronto who can help present your side of the story.

When they work well, probation rules in Canada help ensure that people who are at no risk to the public do not end up in jail for long periods of time, and that judges have a range of tools available to them when it comes to sentencing.

Unfortunately, Canada’s justice system has often come in for criticism for the way it implements probation. Issues around lack of funding and guidelines have led many to be suspicious of whether or not the probation system is able to work as designed, which is one of the reasons it is so important to have expert legal advice from a Toronto criminal defence lawyer when navigating charges around breach of probation.

If you are facing charges related to probation rules, get in touch with Jeff Reisman Law today to get the legal support you need to fight the charges and avoid a strict sentence.