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Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Costs Too Much

September 8, 2014
For immediate release

(VANCOUVER) – A new report released today by the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) shows that mandatory minimum sentencing fails to reduce crime while coming at a staggering personal, social and financial cost.

The report, More Than We Can Afford: The Costs of Mandatory Minimum Sentencing, provides a comprehensive overview of the financial, social and legal implications of mandatory minimum sentencing in Canada. The report calls for evidence-based policy reform in the area of criminal justice, highlighting that mandatory minimum sentencing fails to make our streets and communities safer.

“Mandatory minimums are a one-size-fits-all approach to sentencing. They do not deter crime. They shift discretion in sentencing away from judges, whose decisions are openly made and reviewable, to prosecutors, whose decisions are tactical and largely beyond review. They disproportionately affect certain Canadians, including Indigenous peoples and the mentally ill,” said Raji Mangat, BCCLA Counsel and report author. “The BCCLA is extremely concerned about the unjust, disproportionate outcomes of mandatory minimum sentencing. It is a short-sighted approach to the criminal justice system where there is instead a pressing need for evidence-based, thoughtful policy reform. Even as crime rates are falling and are at their lowest point since the early 1970s, the Canadian government persists in enacting costly, punitive sentencing measures.”

Since Bill C-10, The Safe Streets and Communities Act, was enacted in 2012, the number of offences attracting mandatory minimum sentences is at an all-time high. While there has been no comprehensive costing analysis of Bill C-10 as a whole, the cost to the justice and corrections systems of just one element of  Bill C-10 has been estimated at over $150 million.

While social costs are more difficult to measure, the new measures greatly impact already vulnerable people. For example, an estimated 20,000 children are separated from their mothers because of incarceration every year in Canada, resulting in negative behavioural manifestations, including withdrawal, low self-esteem, depression, substance abuse and aggression.

“Mandatory minimum sentences are bad public policy for everyone,” says Adrienne Smith, lawyer with Pivot Legal Society. “They’re cruel and unusual punishment, especially as they apply to members of Canada’s marginalized communities. We need to allow judges to consider the conditions of the offence and the offenders to ensure sentences are fair.”

Eric Gottardi, Chair of the Criminal Section of the Canadian Bar Association welcomes this report. “Canada is now second only to the United States in the number and breadth of Mandatory Minimum Penalties enacted in our system of criminal justice. Despite that fact, Canada is the only common law jurisdiction in the world that does not have a statutory exemption clause that would allow judges to depart from the minimum sentence in cases where an injustice would result. The Governments needs to do more to ensure the long-term public safety of Canadians by focussing on rehabilitation and re-integration of offenders, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.”

A copy of the BCCLA’s report is available for download here.

Read By The Numbers: Facts about the Costs of Tough on Crime Measures

Read the report summary here

Media Contacts:

Raji Mangat, BCCLA Counsel and report author: (604) 630-9928 / [email protected]
Adrienne Smith, Pivot Legal Society, Health and Drug Policy Staff Lawyer: (778) 848-3420
Eric V. Gottardi, Peck & Company: (604) 669-0208 / [email protected]