Ontario Court Rules Harper’s Mandatory Minimum Sentences Unconstitutional

by: Obert Madondo

Harper Crime Bill C10 ImageThe Ontario Court of Appeal has delivered a stinging ruling that strikes at the heart of the Conservatives’ draconian and vindictive law-and-order agenda.

The court ruled Tuesday that mandatory minimum sentences of three years for gun possession were “cruel and unusual punishment”.

Mandatory minimum sentences became the new normal for the Canadian justice system after the Conservatives passed the New Jim Crow-style omnibus crime Bill C-10 in 2012.

According to The Canadian Press:

The law as written could capture anyone from a person keeping an unloaded restricted gun, with ammunition accessible, in their cottage when their licence requires it to be in their home, to a person standing on a street corner with a loaded gun in his back pocket “which he intends to use as he sees fit,” the court said.

“No system of criminal justice that would resort to punishments that ‘outrage standards of decency’ in the name of furthering the goals of deterrence and denunciation could ever hope to maintain the respect and support of its citizenry,” the court ruled.

“Similarly, no system of criminal justice that would make exposure to a draconian mandatory minimum penalty, the cost an accused must pay to go to trial on the merits of the charge, could pretend to have any fidelity to the search for the truth in the criminal justice system.”

Mandatory minimum sentences do not belong in a progressive and compassionate country like Canada. They do not reduce crime. They politicize our criminal justice system. They cost billions of taxpayers’ dollars in new mega prisons. They criminalize the people Canada should be helping the most: the poor, youth, and marginalized groups.

Related: Coming to Canada: Prison industrial complex, punishment and profits

As I’ve argued before, the Conservatives’ mandatory minimums seek to “impose an insidious, divisive, pro-punishment, poverty-ignoring and anti-minority right-wing worldview on Canada”. They are part of the beginning of the privatization of Canada’s prison system for the benefit prison profiteers such as the GEO Group and Management and Training Corporation (MTC).

In the meantime, the Swedes are building no new prisons. In fact, they are planning to close four.

As The Guardian reports:

Prison numbers in Sweden, which have been falling by around 1% a year since 2004, dropped by 6% between 2011 and 2012 and are expected to do the same again both this year and next, Öberg said.

As a result, the prison service has this year closed down prisons in the towns of Åby, Håja, Båtshagen, and Kristianstad, two of which will probably be sold and two of which will be passed for temporary use to other government authorities.

Öberg said that while nobody knew for sure why prison numbers had dropped so steeply, he hoped that Sweden’s liberal prison approach, with its strong focus on rehabilitating prisoners, had played a part.

How did Sweden do it? A criminal justice system that focuses on rehabilitation. And a sentencing regime with humane terms for less serious crimes such as theft and minor drug offenses.

This, and not backwards, is the direction Canada should be taking.

Obert Madondo is an Ottawa-based progressive blogger, and the founder and editor of The Canadian Progressive.

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Obert Madondo

Publisher and editor
Obert Madondo is an Ottawa-based independent journalist and progressive political blogger. He's the publisher and editor of The Canadian Progressive.