Canada top court strikes down mandatory minimum sentences

The Supreme Court of Canada struck down key policies of the former Conservative government that aimed to deter crimes by effectively jailing convicts for longer
AFP

Ottawa (AFP) – Canada’s Supreme Court struck down key policies of the former Conservative government that aimed to deter crimes by effectively jailing convicts for longer, in a pair of rulings Friday.

Historically Canadian courts had broad discretion in sentencing, but the Tories led by Stephen Harper changed that in 2010 by imposing mandatory minimum sentences for certain crimes.

They also ended a practice of giving enhanced credit for time spent in pre-trial custody, alleging convicts had manipulated the clause to spend less overall time in prison.

The amendments targeted violent and repeat offenders, but in split decisions the Supreme Court found them to be overbroad and unjust.

In one case, an Iranian national who has since been deported was sentenced to six years in prison for a variety of criminal offenses.

Due to prior convictions, he was not permitted to apply nearly 20 months he voluntarily spent in pre-trial custody, multiplied by 1.5, to reduce his sentence.

In another case, a Vancouver addict with a prior drug conviction was sentenced to one year in prison for drug possession with the purpose of trafficking, under the minimum sentencing guidelines.

“At one end of the range of conduct caught by the mandatory minimum sentence provision (hypothetically) stands a professional drug dealer who engages in the business of dangerous drugs for profit, who is in possession of a large amount of drugs, and who has been convicted many times for similar offences,” Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin wrote in one of the decisions.

“At the other end of the range stands the addict who is charged for sharing a small amount of drugs with a friend or spouse, and finds herself sentenced to a year in prison because of a single conviction for sharing marijuana in a social occasion nine years before. 

“Most Canadians would be shocked to find that such a person (the latter) could be sent to prison for one year.”

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