Canadian Criminal Sentencing/Available Sentences/Fines

General Principles


Fines are a form of financial punishment available as a sentencing option for a judge.[1] A fine is available where the court believes that the accused is "able to pay" the fine[2] and where a pecuniary punishment is considered proportionate to the offence and offender. This focus on ability to pay, found in s. 734(2), prevents "offenders from being fined amounts that they are truly unable to pay, and to correspondingly reduce the number of offenders who are incarcerated in default of payment."[3]

The burden is upon the party seeking the fine to prove that the offender has the ability to pay on a balance of probabilities.[4] The party does not need to identify or locate the specific assets available, rather "may rely on indirect evidence" to prove an ability to pay.[5]

Absent evidence to the contrary, the court may infer an ability to pay where the offender has been in "receipt of illegally-obtained funds". This must take into account the "amount of funds acquired" and "the length of time that has passed between the acquisition of the funds and the imposition of sentence."[6]

To issue a fine a judge must order:

  1. an amount to be paid
  2. the mode of payment
  3. the time(s) that the fine should be paid

The judge may add further requirements as seen fit.

If the offender fails to pay, it is on the offender to show proof that they are unable to pay in the circumstances.[7]

  1. s. 734; 716
  2. 734(2)
  3. R. v. Topp, 2011 SCC 43
  4. R v Topp
  5. R v Topp
  6. R v Topp
  7. R. v. Desjardins, 1996 NBCA; see also R. v. Wu, [2003] 3 SCR 530