Mandatory minimum jail sentences for a variety of gun charges were introduced in Canadian law in 2008 as part of an omnibus bill introduced by the federal Conservatives pledging to get “tough on crime”.
The government justified the minimums claiming that tough sentencing laws act as a deterrent against gun-related crimes. Mandatory minimums had been in use in the United States for several years prior to their introduction in Canada, and had generally been regarded as an ineffective deterrent to crime. Many members of the legal community oppose the use of mandatory minimums because it prevents judges from being able to consider exceptional or unusual circumstances.
Earlier this year, the Supreme Court of Canada released its decision in the cases of R v Nur and R v Charles (indexed as R v Nur, 2015 SCC 15), which considered whether the minimum sentences imposed by certain sections of the Criminal Code result in cruel and unusual punishment on the accused, in violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The majority of the Supreme Court held that the mandatory minimum sentences imposed by s. 95(2)(a)(i) and (ii) of the Criminal Code violate s. 12 of the Charter and are null and void. The Supreme Court held that although the mandatory minimum sentences were did not constitute cruel and unusual punishment for either Mr. Nur or Mr. Charles, there are some reasonably foreseeable cases in which they may do so. The Supreme Court noted that mandatory minimum sentences “function as a blunt instrument that may deprive courts of the ability to tailor proportionate sentences at the lower end of a sentencing range. They may, in extreme cases, impose unjust sentences, because they shift the focus from the offender during the sentencing process in a way that violates the principle of proportionality” [para 44].
However, despite the consensus that mandatory minimum sentences are problematic at best, another charge with a mandatory minimum sentence recently took effect. ‘Quanto’s Law’ came into effect in late July of this year, and is named after the Edmonton police dog that was stabbed to death while chasing a suspect. Anyone convicted of intentionally killing a service animal can now face a jail sentence of up to 5 years. However, the charge also provides a six-month mandatory minimum sentence if the animal was intentionally injured. Previously, a person who killed a police dog could be charged animal cruelty at most. According to police officers who work with animals, the law is long overdue as it is common for dogs to be punched or kicked during chases. But others are concerned that the law is far more likely to punish people who react naturally to being bitten by an aggressive dog.
Just days after Quanto’s Law came into effect, the effectiveness and legality of mandatory minimum sentences became a hot topic in the news south of the border. On the HBO show Last Night Tonight, host John Oliver completely dismantled the argument against mandatory minimum sentences in the United States in a 15 minute segment. To watch the clip, click here.
For more information about mandatory minimum sentences and to speak to an experienced criminal defence lawyer, please contact Affleck & Barrison online or at 905-404-1947.
To read the full decision in R v Nur click here.