Liberals introduce legislation to end some mandatory minimum sentences

Politics

The Liberal government has tabled legislation to eliminate mandatory minimum penalties for a number of tobacco, firearms and drug offences.

Justice Minister David Lametti has tabled legislation to remove 14 mandatory minimum sentences from the Criminal Code of Canada and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.(The Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld)

The Liberal government has tabled legislation to eliminate mandatory minimum penalties for a number of tobacco, firearms and drug offences.

The bill would eliminate mandatory minimum penalties (MMPs) for 14 of the 67 offences in the Criminal Code that currently carry them — 13 for firearms offences and one for a tobacco offence.

The bill also would eliminate all six MMPs for offences under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. MMPs would remain for murder, high treason, impaired driving and sexual offences, as well as a number of firearms offences.

The bill is identical to Bill C-22, introduced in February of this year. That legislation died on the order paper when the federal election was called in the fall.

"With Bill C-5, we are turning the page on the policy of the former government. It is a policy that in the end did not discourage crime or make our justice system more efficient or more fair," Justice Minister David Lametti said today.

"All the approach did was imprison too many Indigenous, Black and marginalized Canadians."

The Conservative government under prime minister Stephen Harper introduced many MMPs to the Criminal Code during its nine years in power. Many of those penalties were struck down by courts across the country as unconstitutional.

Critics of mandatory minimum penalties argue that they disproportionately affect Black, Indigenous and marginalized Canadians and lead to over-incarceration.

"Indigenous adults represent five per cent of the general population but account for 30 per cent of federally incarcerated inmates," Lametti said. "That's double where it was 20 years ago."

Lametti said that Black inmates make up 7.2 per cent of the federal inmate population but only three per cent of the Canadian population.

"These statistics, this record, is shameful," he said, adding that a mandatory minimum sentence does not allow a judge to take mitigating factors into account.

The firearms offences affected by this legislation include possessing a restricted firearm with ammunition, weapons trafficking, discharging a firearm while committing an offence, reckless discharge of a firearm, and extortion and robbery with a firearm.

The tobacco MMP to be repealed relates to the illegal sale of tobacco.

Eliminating all MMPs for drug offences

The legislation also would repeal MMPs for all six offences to which they apply under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, including possession, trafficking and the production of substances classified under Schedule 1 or 2 of the Act.

"This measure will allow for more effective rehabilitation and integration by allowing individuals to keep their job, to care for their children or family members or to seek counselling or treatment for substance and addictions abuse," Lametti said.

The justice minister said the decision to treat drug related crimes with rehabilitation and treatment is a clear move away from the approach of the previous Conservative government, which was more focused on punishment.

"This measure has proven to reduce the likelihood of someone re-offending," Lametti said.

There are 67 MMPs in the Criminal Code and six in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. While Bill C-5 would eliminate 20 of those, many would remain. Lametti was asked today why he is not removing them all.

"This is an important step today," he said. "I am the first justice minister in recent memory to reverse position on minimum mandatory penalties. There tends to be accretion, an addition of minimum mandatories in the other direction over time. We're reversing that."

Critics weigh in

The Conservatives criticized the legislation but said they would study it in more detail.

"Conservatives believe that serious, violent offences that are committed with firearms deserve mandatory prison time. It's shameful that the Liberals think we should be weakening firearms laws in Canada," said Conservative justice critic Rob Moore.

"This bill is soft on crime and puts communities and victims at risk."

The NDP, meanwhile, said the bill won't do enough to address the over-incarceration of Black and Indigenous people.

"It's a good step to see that the government is getting rid of some of the mandatory minimums for possession charges but drug use is still being treated — ineffectively — as a criminal justice issue," said NDP MP Randall Garrison in a statement.

"The bill is better than nothing but Canadians need the federal government to take a more holistic approach to ensure our justice system doesn't continue to perpetuate systemic racism."

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