In Canada, a conditional sentence order (CSO) is known informally as “house arrest”. It is a kind of sentence or punishment that some people might receive when they are convicted of a crime.

What is House Arrest?

Simply put, a CSO (or house arrest) is a jail sentence that the offender is permitted to serve in the community as opposed to in prison. It allows the offender to serve their sentence in the community under strict rules. This often means the offender may be able to go to work or school but may not have much liberty beyond that.

The rules, or conditions, the offender must follow are up to the sentencing judge to decide and can include things like 24-hour house arrest, a curfew, staying away from certain places or people, not using drugs or alcohol, and doing community service. If the offender breaks these rules or does something else against the law while on a CSO, they may have to serve the remainder of their house arrest in jail with no ability to earn credit for good behaviour.

Some may consider a CSO a more lenient sentence than incarceration, however, the courts have recognized that a strict, well-crafted CSO can be as effective or more effective at denouncing and deterring an offender’s conduct compared to real jail.

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History of the Conditional Sentence Order Regime

CSOs have not always been the law in Canada. They were introduced in 1995. Initially, the regime had two primary criteria: the jail sentence imposed had to be less than two years, and serving the sentence in the community did not pose a danger.

In 1997, an amendment was introduced requiring a CSO to align with the fundamental purposes and principles of sentencing. This amendment aimed to ensure that CSOs were not granted arbitrarily and were in line with the broader goals of the criminal justice system.

Subsequent amendments in 2007 and 2012 made the rules more stringent. In 2007, Parliament excluded certain serious crimes and offences involving serious personal injury from eligibility for CSOs. In 2012, Parliament went further and limited the number of situations in which CSOs could be granted, such as for offences with a maximum sentence of 14 years or more. The amendments in 2012 greatly limited the use of CSOs until 2022.

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Recent Reforms

In 2022, Parliament passed significant changes to the regime that largely undid the strict amendments of 2007 and 2012. In effect, the regime has been made more flexible and largely resembles how it looked in 1997: there are no longer restrictions on using CSOs for personal injury offences or cases with a maximum sentence of 14 years or life, provided they align with other sentencing principles.

The main driver behind these changes was a policy shift aimed at reducing over-incarceration in Canada. The federal government has recognized there are significant problems associated with excessive imprisonment, such as high costs, limited effectiveness in rehabilitation, and negative consequences on offenders. This policy shift seeks to provide judges with more options to tailor sentences, focusing on restorative justice and rehabilitation.


Availability for Offences Before 2022

Even if an offender is convicted of an offence committed before the most recent amendments, section 11(i) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms provides the offender with the benefits of the sentencing regime in place at the time of sentencing.

If you are charged with a serious offence, it is important to speak with experienced counsel who is up-to-date on the law to ensure your legal interests are best protected.