The Canadian Supreme Court Rules on Judicial Discretion

The Globe & Mail reports:

The Supreme Court of Canada has sounded a death knell for mandatory minimum jail sentences passed by the former Conservative government, indirectly sending a message to the Liberal government to get on with the job of undoing Harper-era laws that put judges in a sentencing straitjacket.

In two separate rulings that stress the importance of judges’ discretion, the court struck at the heart of prime minister Stephen Harper’s crime agenda.

In the first one, it said a mandatory minimum sentence of one year for drug traffickers who have a previous trafficking conviction is cruel and unusual punishment, and therefore unconstitutional. The ruling went on to say that other mandatory minimum sentences are similarly vulnerable to being struck down. The former Conservative government created 60 minimum sentences for gun, drugs, sex and other offences. Canada has the second most minimums in the world, after the United States, according to the Criminal Lawyers’ Association.

“The reality is this,” Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, author of both rulings, wrote for the majority in a 6-3 decision. “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.”

In a second case, this one unanimous, it struck down a provision of the Truth in Sentencing Act that said people denied bail because of a criminal record cannot be given extra credit for the time in custody before trial – that is, no more than one day credit for each day served. Judges routinely give those awaiting trial 1.5 days credit for each day served, after a previous Supreme Court ruling allowed them to do so, over the objections of the Harper government.”


The Supreme Court of Canada two related rulings can be  accessed here and here.

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