In Canada, mandatory minimum sentences are imposed on individuals convicted of certain criminal offences. This means that sentences imposed on individuals convicted of criminal offences that carry mandatory minimum sentences cannot be less than the corresponding mandatory minimum sentence for that criminal offence.
Superior Court Justice, Casey Hill, of Brampton has struck down the mandatory minimum sentence mandated for the criminal offence of importation of a controlled substance, contrary to section 6(1) of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
Justice Hill found it would be in violation of the accused’s section 12 Charter Rights, amounting to cruel and unusual punishment, to impose a two year sentence.
The accused in this case is Cheyenne Sharma a 23 year old single Indigenous mother living below the poverty line. Sharma, who has no criminal record, pleaded guilty to importation of a controlled substance, contrary to section 6(1) of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. This offence has a two year mandatory minimum sentence.
Justice Hill’s ruling illuminates the need for the Federal Government to fulfil its promise to repeal mandatory minimum sentences.
Two years ago the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommended to the Federal Government that the mandatory minimum sentencing laws be repealed as a way to address the overrepresentation of indigenous people in the criminal justice system. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau committed to taking the necessary steps to repeal mandatory minimum sentencing.
In this case, Sharma’s criminal defence lawyer argued that the mandatory minimum sentence constitutes a violation of her section 12 Charter rights, as it is cruel and unusual punishment.
Justice Hill ruled in favour of the defence, finding it “a grossly disproportionate punishment.”
furthermore, in his ruling, Justice Hill acknowledged the “systemic cultural genocide of our country’s First Nations peoples” and the direct impact of colonialism on their disproportionate involvement in the criminal justice system.
Justice Hill found that “Cheyenne Sharma is very much the face of many Aboriginal offenders whose background has played a real role . . . in their presence before the criminal courts in this country.”
Instead of imposing the mandatory minimum two year sentence, Justice Hill sentenced Sharma to serve a 17 month custodial sentence, striking down the mandatory minimum sentence required.
Many people are critical of mandatory minimum sentences arguing that they reduce judicial sentencing discretion by strictly limiting the range of sentences that a judge can impose.
Mandatory minimums are typically imposed as a way to deter crime however, research has consistently shown that mandatory minimums are, in fact, not actually effective at deterring crime.
The Minister of Justice has said that they remain committed to introducing reforms to address the negative impacts that mandatory minimum penalties have had on our criminal justice system.
Furthermore, the Minister of Justice has stated that they remain committed to taking steps to reform the criminal justice system to address the overrepresentation of Indigenous accused and that sentencing reforms that repeal mandatory minimum sentencing will contribute to this.
If you have been charged with a criminal offence please contact Kostman and Pyzer, Barristers today for your free consultation.