Home / Media Advisory: Supreme Court to rule on constitutionality of mandatory minimums, criminal sentencing reforms

Media Advisory: Supreme Court to rule on constitutionality of mandatory minimums, criminal sentencing reforms

For immediate release

Ottawa (April 14, 2016) – Tomorrow, the Supreme Court of Canada will issue two decisions determining the constitutionality of reforms to sentencing law passed by the Conservative government. The BCCLA was an intervener in both cases and made submissions to the Court arguing the reforms violate Charter protections against cruel and unusual punishment.

In the first case, R. v. Lloyd, the issue is whether the mandatory minimum sentence of one year’s imprisonment for a drug offense violates the Charter.

The minimum sentence mandated in this case was imposed by the Safe Streets and Communities Act – also known as Bill C-10 and the “Omnibus Crime Bill.” The Safe Streets and Communities Act, a “tough on crime” law enacted in 2012, made sweeping changes to the criminal law, including requiring for the first time mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenders through amendments to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

The BCCLA argued that the Court should look at the reasonably foreseeable and broad, practical effects of the one year mandatory minimum sentence on individual rights, in particular the rights of the most marginalized and vulnerable offenders, such as low-income drug users and the drug-addicted. The Court should also consider how the law negatively impacts the rights of non-citizens, such as permanent residents.

At issue in the second case, R. v. Safarzadeh-Markhali, is whether individuals who have been denied bail as a result of prior convictions should be able to receive credit for time they served prior to sentencing. In the normal course, a person denied bail may receive up to 1.5 days of credit for each day spent in pre-sentence custody. The reasons for this practice reflect the often harsh conditions in pre-sentence custody and the lack of access to rehabilitative and other programming. However, following amendments made by the Truth in Sentencing Act, 2009, a person denied bail primarily because of a previous conviction is ineligible for enhanced credit, and credit for pre-sentence custody is limited to 1:1.

The BCCLA intervened to argue that denying offenders enhanced credit for time served in pre-sentence custody can result in grossly disproportionate sentences that violate the Charter and amount to cruel and unusual punishment.

The BCCLA is represented by Matthew Nathanson of MN Law in R. v. Lloyd

The BCCLA is represented by Nader Hasan and Gerald Chan of Stockwoods LLP in R. v. Safarzadeh-Markhali

What: Supreme Court of Canada to issue decisions in R. v. Safarzadeh-Markhali and R. v. Lloyd

When: Friday, April 15, 2016 at 9:45 a.m. (EDT) / 6:45 a.m. (PDT)

Where: Supreme Court of Canada (Ottawa, Ontario)

Who: Representatives of the BCCLA available for comment