Mandatory Minimum Sentences Detrimental

Post Date: September 30, 2013

(The Windsor Star – Ontario, Canada) Even as Americans declare mandatory minimum sentencing the new Jim Crow laws, Ottawa continues to defend the practice of tying a judge’s hands.

A new report from a blueribbon group of senior legal stakeholders says that, after the U.S., Canada has created the most robust mandatory sentencing regime in the common-law world without a safety valve to prevent injustice.

Eric Gottardi, a Vancouver lawyer and member of the Uniform Law Conference of Canada working group that authored the study, said prosecutors and defence lawyers agreed there are exceptional situations that call for leniency, but judges are powerless under the mandatory scheme.

“We’re the only jurisdiction that doesn’t have a general exemption clause in the criminal code,” he said.

Gottardi, who is also chair of the Canadian Bar Association’s national criminal justice section, said the report is based on the comparative research and analysis of Yvon Dandurand, of the University of the Fraser Valley.

The criminologist studied mandatory minimum sentences around the globe – particularly in England, Wales, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

“As much as many of us oppose mandatory minimum penalties, they are here and they’re not going anywhere,” Gottardi said.

“We thought, why not take a different approach? If they are here, why not make it a coherent, logical regime that applies to 98 per cent of the people like it’s intended to, but … that the judge might have a little escape valve to give some relief in the exceptional case.”

He said there was broad consensus on the issue. Read more