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globe editorial

News item: The federal Justice Department has hired a pollster to sound out Canadians on their appetite for criminal sentencing reform – a political "testing of the waters," as it were.

It's all well and good to get a feel for voter sentiment, but the water is fine, thank you. Ottawa should just go ahead and dive in.

The former Conservative government had a fondness for mandatory minimum sentences for an unnecessarily broad range of crimes. There should be no hesitation to repeal many of the legislative decisions that followed from that preference.

That's not to say mandatory minimums don't have their place – in the case of murder, for instance. But, as a large body of research shows, to impose them over-broadly serves to increase injustice.

As a general rule, the courts should have the discretion to consider the particular circumstances of a case – both aggravating and mitigating – before reaching a sentencing decision.

In the years since the Tories undertook their expansion of mandatory sentences, the judiciary, including the Supreme Court, has pushed back via a series of rulings that correctly concluded that an inflexible minimum sanction may constitute a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Ultimately, it's preferable for the legislative branch to set the rules under which such interpretations are made, and we encourage Parliament to do just that.

It's not as if this will require any kind of legislative gymnastics.

Section 718 of the Criminal Code says, "The fundamental purpose of sentencing is to protect society and to contribute, along with crime prevention initiatives, to respect for the law and the maintenance of a just, peaceful and safe society."

The text expands on the notion by invoking criteria including denunciation, deterrence, rehabilitation, reparations and "acknowledgment of the harm to victims or the community."

Those aims are best achieved by taking the specific details of a case, and the facts concerning the accused, into account.

Automatic lengthy imprisonment does not equate to justice. The system depends on judges doing their jobs to the best of their ability. Ottawa shouldn't need poll numbers to know that.