Supreme Court of Canada strikes down mandatory minimum sentencing law for drug traffickers

published on April 15, 2016 by Manisha Krishnan in VICE News

The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled mandatory minimum sentences for repeat drug traffickers are unconstitutional.

The decision, one of two released Friday morning, overturns a policy brought in under former Prime Minister Stephen Harper that forced judges to hand down a minimum of one year in jail to people who are convicted of more than one trafficking offence within a 10-year-period.

A separate ruling also struck down a law that infringed on a judge’s ability to give credit for time served prior to a conviction.

Civil liberties advocates argued the laws amount to “cruel and unusual punishment” – a Charter violation – that disproportionately affects drug addicts and marginalized people. They said that the laws also effectively tie a judge’s hands when it comes to using discretion during sentencing.

M-J Milloy, a research scientist with the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, told VICE the decision is repairing “a mistake made by the last federal government.”

“Incarceration has few if any beneficial impacts for people who are addicted to drugs. It does not encourage or help or facilitate people ending their addictions and entering into recovery.”

When the Harper government brought in the “tough on crime” law under 2012’s Safe Streets and Communities Act, it was pitched as a way to nail major drug traffickers, but Milloy said the reality is it’s just been another way to target addicts.

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