In a response to calls for reform against systemic racism in the criminal justice system, last month the Liberal government proposed Bill C-22 which includes amendments to the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
Bill C-22 proposes the elimination of mandatory minimum sentences for some drug and firearms offences, the reduction of prosecutions for simple drug possession charges and allowing for an increase in the use of conditional sentences to be served in the community.
The Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, the Honourable David Lametti, stated:
The reforms we are introducing are critical to addressing systemic racism and discrimination in the justice system while keeping Canadians safe. We are turning the page on failed approaches which have disproportionately hurt Indigenous peoples, Black Canadians and marginalized communities. They have also left our communities less safe and created a justice system that is less fair for all Canadians.
PROPOSED CHANGES TO MANDATORY MINIMUM PENALTIES
One of the proposed changes is the repeal of mandatory minimum penalties (“MMPs”) for 14 of the 67 offences currently punishable by MMPs in the Criminal Code and the repeal of all 6 of the offences punishable by an MMP in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
As it reads today, under the Criminal Code an offence punishable by an MMP requires that the judge impose a sentence equal to or greater than the minimum term for that offence, whether or not imprisonment is appropriate given the facts of the case.
The specific offences that carry mandatory minimum sentences that are under consideration for elimination have been found to disproportionately impact Black and Indigenous offenders.
According to the Honourable Bill Blair, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness:
We know that mandatory provisions can result in sentences that are not proportional to all the circumstances of the offence, and have resulted in disparate, unjust outcomes for racialized and Indigenous people. Sentencing options that include diversion, treatment, rehabilitation and reintegration back into the community produce better outcomes and reduce disproportionate incarceration.
PROPOSED CHANGES TO SIMPLE DRUG POSSESSION CHARGES
Although Bill C-22 does not outright decriminalize simple drug possession, as many organizations have lobbied for, the new bill does propose that police and prosecutors consider other measures, such as diversion to addiction treatment programs or other supportive services, instead of charging and prosecuting simple drug possession offences.
The proposed amendments to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act are aimed at helping those living with mental health or substance use struggles to get the help that is required instead of being stigmatized and punished.
PROPOSED USE OF CONDITIONAL SENTENCE ORDERS
Bill C-22 submits that for cases where an offender faces a jail term of less than two years and does not pose a threat to public safety that judges have the option to order that the term be served in the community under strict conditions. Proposed conditions include house arrest, curfews, mandatory counseling and treatment for substance abuse. Under this suggestion, individuals would be able to maintain their employment or continue to care for children or other dependent family members, while allowing for rehabilitation and reintegration. Individuals who are not a “menace to society” would be diverted into “positive programming” to assist them in turning their live around instead of facing incarceration.
BILL C-21 – PROPOSED INCREASES TO MAXIMUM PENALTIES FOR FIREARMS OFFENCES
The federal government recently introduced Bill C-21, which would increase criminal penalties for gun smuggling and trafficking, create a process for confiscating legal firearms from individuals who pose a risk to themselves and/or others, and introduce a gun buy-back program for 1,500 models of “assault-style” firearms.
This new legislation would allow municipalities to ban handguns, if their provinces permit it. Municipalities would have the option to enact bylaws to restrict handgun storage and transport in those municipalities.
In an effort to avoid intimate partner and gender-based violence and self-harm through the use of firearms, the proposed legislation creates “red flag” and “yellow flag” laws to allow individuals to apply to the courts for the immediate removal of another person’s firearms.
It has also been proposed that a new offence be created under the Firearms Act to prohibit any business advertising that depicts, counsels or promotes firearms violence against a person. This offence would have a maximum penalty of two years imprisonment for the first offence, and five years imprisonment for each subsequent offence.
We will continue to follow the anticipated legislative proposals by the federal government and will report any developments regarding these changes to the criminal justice system in this blog.
If you have been charged with a weapons offence or any other criminal offence or have any questions regarding your legal rights, please contact the experienced Oshawa criminal defence lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947. We offer a 24-hour phone service to protect your rights and to ensure that you have access to justice at all times.