Supreme Court strikes down another mandatory minimum sentence

Vancouver, B.C. [April 15]—The Supreme Court of Canada has struck down yet another mandatory minimum sentencing provision introduced by the former Conservative government.

The Court found that a one-year mandatory minimum sentence for trafficking is unconstitutional. The decision suggests that mandatory minimum jail terms for drug-related offences are constitutionally questionable. To deal with this constitutional problem, Parliament should restore judicial discretion or narrow the reach of these sentences.

In a 6-to-3 decision in the case of R. v. Lloyd, the Court found “mandatory minimum sentences that, as here, apply to offences that can be committed in various ways, under a broad array of circumstances and by a wide range of people are vulnerable to constitutional challenge.”

Joseph Lloyd, a Vancouver Downtown Eastside resident, was charged and convicted of possession for the purpose of trafficking. At the time of his arrest, Mr. Lloyd was carrying just under 10 grams of heroin, crack cocaine, and crystal methamphetamine. Mr. Lloyd told the court he was addicted to these three drugs, and that he was paid for his work as a low-level drug trade worker with drugs. Mr. Lloyd’s conviction carried a one-year mandatory minimum jail term because he had a previous drug trafficking conviction in the past 10 years.

“The Court has been very consistent in ruling that mandatory minimum sentences are unconstitutional and violate people’s Charter rights,” said Darcie Bennett, Interim Executive Director at Pivot Legal Society. “The message should be quite clear for the federal government: our laws must align with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Until they do, they will continue to be challenged and they will continue to be struck down.”

The Conservative government introduced dozens of mandatory jail sentences, most notably with the omnibus crime bill, the Safe Streets and Communities Act (SSCA) in March 12, 2012. Pivot has intervened on several challenges to these sentences, arguing that for vulnerable people such as women, youth, and people who use drugs, mandatory minimum sentences amount to cruel and unusual punishment.

In the case of R. v. Lloyd, Pivot co-intervened with the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs (UBCIC), explaining that mandatory minimum jail terms make consideration of an offender’s Aboriginal heritage and the impact of colonialism on Indigenous people impossible, as does considering a person whose addiction brings them before the court.

Grand Chief Phillip, President of UBCIC, stated: “It is offensive and disgraceful that the Harper government tried to circumvent Gladue by implementing mandatory minimum sentencing. We are celebrating the ruling today and hopeful that Parliament will now turn to the task of ensuring that the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is continued and that judges are given the discretion to consider a person’s Aboriginal heritage when sentencing.”

The Supreme Court of Canada decision can be found here.

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About Pivot Legal Society
Pivot Legal Society is a leading Canadian human rights organization that uses the law to address the root causes of poverty and social exclusion in Canada. Pivot’s award winning work includes challenging laws and policies that force people to the margins of society and keep them there. Since 2002 Pivot has won major victories for sex workers’ rights, police accountability, affordable housing, and health and drug policy.

About Union of BC Indian Chiefs
The Union of BC Indian Chiefs was founded in 1969 and represents more than 100 First Nations in British Columbia. The UBCIC is a NGO in Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. More information at www.ubcic.bc.ca.

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