Sentencing Theory - Teaching Resources

Sentencing Theory
Teaching Resources

As the Canadian legal system rethinks the way they imposes sentences for criminal behaviours, there is still strong public reaction when a person is convicted of a crime and then receives what appears to many to be too light a sentence.  In order to understand how judges come to their decisions, it is important to consider the rules and the directions given by the Supreme Court that guide judges.

Activity Guideline

  • Students should read the first Backgrounder and note the primary reasons for incarcerating offenders found guilty of committing crime sin Canada.
  • Students should read the second Backgrounder or the teacher could firsst summarize the facts of the Gladue Case. Ask students what they think the sentence should be in this case.
  • Have students who suggest a severe penalty work together to develop an argument supporting their judgement based on the concepts developed in the first Backgrounder. 
  • Have students who suggest a modified penalty defend their decision by going to the second Backgrounder and some of the resources listed below.




When students have gathered evidence to support their opinions, organize a classroom debate by appointing two or three students from each side to present their positions.  Working in the two groups each class member should be required to submit to the designated speakers on their side at least two well reasoned arguments to support their position.  After each speaker to the issue presents their case, a moment or two should be given the opposing team to pose a question to the speaker or refute one point that was made. Students should then decide which side made the best case and prepare a brief written opinion piece that summarize their conclusions. 

Conclude the lesson with the findings of the Supreme Court in the Gladue case and review the reasons for the Courts decision.  Note for the class how the Gladue decision has affected sentencing practices in general in Canada with a particular note on its impact on sentences imposed on young offenders.

Suggested Follow-Up Activity
This lesson could be followed by one on Restorative Justice and you may want to consult the Law Connection Issue on that topic to guide your classroom discussion.