Skip to main content

British Columbia Conservatives’ mandatory minimum laws dealt another blow in court

The B.C Court of Appeal in Vancouver, British Columbia

Ben Nelms/The Globe and Mail

The former Conservative government's tough-on-crime agenda has suffered another blow as British Columbia's highest court struck down two more mandatory-minimum sentencing laws, ruling them unconstitutional.

On Monday, the B.C. Court of Appeal overturned compulsory two-year minimum sentences for drug trafficking convictions that involve someone under the age of 18 or that occur in a public place frequented by youth.

A unanimous decision from the three-person panel says a minimum sentence of two years in such instances may be at times "grossly disproportionate" to the crime committed, and therefore amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

Story continues below advertisement

This week's ruling is the latest in several cases where courts have overturned mandatory-minimum sentences that are the legacy of the former Conservative government.

A Supreme Court of Canada decision earlier this month put an end to minimum sentences for specific drug crime convictions and limits on pre-trial credit in certain conditions where bail is denied.

Last year, the high court upheld a decision from the Ontario Court of Appeal, which ruled that minimum sentences for some gun crimes constitute cruel and unusual punishment because they risk ensnaring people with "little or no moral fault" and who pose "little or no danger to the public."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responded after the most recent high court decision saying that his government was reviewing the laws around such sentences.

The Justice Department did not provide a comment about the latest decision. The public prosecution service has 60 days to file leave to appeal.

The federal government must now step up and reform the laws around mandatory-minimum sentences, said Darcie Bennett, interim executive director for Pivot Legal Society.

The legal advocacy organization was an intervener in two of the three cases referenced in this week's B.C. Court of Appeal ruling.

Story continues below advertisement

"Legislative reform would be the cheapest, fastest, most effective way to deal with this issue, and to deal with the issue not on simply a provision-by-provision basis," she said.

Reforming the system isn't about being soft on crime, but about allowing judges the discretion to craft sentences depending on the circumstances, she added.

David Fai, a defence lawyer in one of the three cases, said he believes the court is sending a clear message.

His client, Chad Dickey, was arrested in 2013 while selling cocaine to an undercover police officer near a gymnastics club in Quesnel, B.C.

Noting his considerable rehabilitation following his arrest, the B.C. Supreme Court judge sentenced Dickey to 20 months probation.

The other cases addressed in the decision stemmed from so-called dial-a-dope cocaine arrests in 2013.

Story continues below advertisement

Police arrested Marco Trasolini in Burnaby and Cody Bradley-Luscombe in Duncan on Vancouver Island. Both were sentenced to eight months in jail.

The Crown appealed all three decisions, calling them unfit, but the argument was rejected by the appeal court.

"It would be nice to put an end to these things," said Fai, who successfully argued for the Supreme Court of Canada to overturn two other mandatory-minimum laws.

"The public expense in taking these cases to appellate courts, it's not cheap."

Parliament could pass a law rescinding the previous government's legislation around mandatory minimum sentences, said Fai, though he noted the dilemma of a government not wanting to appear soft on crime.

When appointed attorney general, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould was given a mandate letter directing her to quickly intervene in court cases where the former government's position is contrary to the Liberal platform.

Story continues below advertisement

"They may just prefer to have the courts rule on these things so they can stand on the sidelines," Fai said.

Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter