The Supreme Court of Canada today struck down two so-called tough-on-crime measures introduced by the former Conservative government, ruling the changes to sentencing practices were unconstitutional.
In the first case, R. v. Lloyd
, the court ruled 6-3 that the requirement of a one-year mandatory minimum prison sentence for drug offenses violated the guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenders were enacted in 2012, part of changes to the criminal law made by the Conservatives.
“The reality is this: mandatory minimum sentence provisions that apply to offences that can be committed in various ways, under a broad array of circumstances and by a wide range of people are constitutionally vulnerable. This is because such provisions will almost inevitably include an acceptable reasonable hypothetical for which the mandatory minimum will be found unconstitutional,” said the majority ruling written by Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin for justices Rosalie Abella, Thomas Cromwell, Michael Moldaver, Andromache Karakatsanis, and Suzanne Côté”
“If Parliament hopes to maintain mandatory minimum sentences for offences that cast a wide net, it should consider narrowing their reach so that they only catch offenders that merit that mandatory minimum sentences. In the alternative, Parliament could provide for judicial discretion to allow for a lesser sentence where the mandatory minimum would be grossly disproportionate and would constitute cruel and unusual punishment,” said the majority.
In the second case, R. v. Safarzadeh-Markhali, the court voted unanimously against denying enhanced credit for pre-sentence time spent in custody to those that had been denied bail primarily due to a prior conviction.
Reforms in 2009 made those that had been denied bail primarily because of a previous conviction ineligible for enhanced credit, limiting the credit for pre-sentence time served to a one-to-one basis, rather than one-and-a-half days.
The court ruled that the denial of enhanced credit was overly broad.
“The denial of enhanced credit for pre-sentence custody to offenders who are denied bail primarily because of a prior conviction is overbroad because it catches people in ways that have nothing to do with the legislative purpose of s. 719(3.1) of the Code, which is to enhance public safety and security. Section 719(3.1) thus violates s. 7 of the Charter,” said the unanimous ruling, also penned by McLachlin.