Every offence in the Criminal Code of Canada has a maximum punishment.
The maximum punishment represents the upper limit for a judge contemplating a fair and just sentence.
It is rare for an offender to receive the maximum penalty. Maximum punishments are generally reserved for offenders with a significant related record or where the circumstances of the criminal misconduct are particularly egregious.
The maximum punishment conveys the relative gravity of an offence. The highest maximum sentence for an offence in Canada is life imprisonment - Parliament removed the death penalty as a sentencing option from the Criminal Code in 1976.
The maximum punishment for an offence may limit the range of available sentencing options. For example, a maximum sentence of imprisonment for fourteen years or for life will preclude a judge from granting an offender a discharge to avoid a criminal record of conviction, or from imposing a conditional sentence of imprisonment to allow the offender to serve the sentence in the community.
The maximum punishment for an offence is also critical for assessing the collateral immigration consequences of criminal misconduct for a non-citizen. When Parliament raises the maximum penalty for a criminal offence, the consequences for non-citizens may be severe following the conclusion of the criminal proceeding.
On December 18, 2018, Canada will raise the maximum penalty for a first-time impaired driving offence to ten years when the Crown proceeds by way of indictment. Under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the increased maximum penalty will render permanent residents criminally inadmissible to Canada in the event of a conviction, regardless of whether the Crown proceeds summarily or by way of indictment (IRPA sections 36(1)(a) and (3)(a)).