Saying mandatory sentencing laws were more about politics than law reform, a Vancouver lawyer says he is happy and relieved at a Friday morning decision by the Supreme Court of Canada.
David Fai was commenting moments after the high court ruled that two federal laws from the previous Conservative government’s tough-on-crime agenda are unconstitutional.
Cruel and unusual punishment
In a 6-3 vote, the high court says a mandatory, one-year minimum sentence for a drug crime when the offender has a similar charge on the record, constitutes cruel and unusual punishment which violates section 12 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The case began in September of 2014, when Joseph Ryan Lloyd was convicted of three counts of possessing crack, methamphetamine and heroin for the purpose of trafficking in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
Lloyd was charged and convicted under the so-called Safe Streets and Communities Act, and eventually given the mandatory sentence of one year because he had a trafficking conviction two years earlier.
Fai, who is Lloyd’s lawyer, says taking away a judge’s discretion in sentencing does not work.
“Judges are experts at tailoring sentences to fit the individual offender with the individual crime that they commit”.
Fai says today’s decision may impact other cases.
“I’m involved in two other appeals right now, and the reasonable foreseeable applications of the law that Chief Justice McLachlin outlines in her decisions are equally applicable to those other two cases.”
The high court also ruled that banning judges from giving more than one-for-one credit for pre-trial detention – if bail was denied because of a previous conviction — is unconstitutional.
Constitutional rights affirmed
The BC Civil Liberties Association is also applauding the decision, saying in a statement the Supreme Court “affirmed the constitutional rights of people charged with criminal offences.”
And that mandatory sentencing “disproportionately affect individuals from vulnerable and marginalized communities, such as people with addiction issues, mental illness, and Indigenous offenders.”