March 2019

IZA DP No. 12255: An Empirical and Qualitative Assessment of Terrorism Sentencing Decisions in Canada since 2001: Shifting Away from the Fundamental Principle and Towards Cognitive Biases

forthcoming in: the UBC Law Review

In this paper, we take a comprehensive and multidisciplinary look at terrorism sentencing decisions over a 17-year period, between September 2001 when the ATA was first conceived of and September 2018. In so doing, we first offer an empirical analysis of the sentences for all terrorism offenses to date, including the total number of sentences, conviction rates, charges, demographics associated with the accused and other factors. We then engage in a qualitative assessment of the sentencing decisions to date. We also investigate the role that section 718.2(a)(v) of the Criminal Code has had on terrorism sentences in Canada and whether it might help to explain the empirical and qualitative shifts we are seeing in terrorism sentencing decisions. Finally, we ask whether there is anything inherent to the legislative and judicial framing of terrorism as a crime, and therefore in its sentencing, that might explain the unique nature of terrorism sentences.