Mandatory minimum sentences are in the sights of the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada David Lametti. The former McGill law teacher, who graduated from Yale and Oxford, plans to abolish them for several crimes and make changes to the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
Bill C-22 provides for the abolition of MMPs for certain offenses, notably related to drug possession and the use of firearms, and greater use of conditional sentences in cases where the offender does not. not present a threat. By viewing drug use as a health issue and not a justice issue, it also encourages police and prosecutors to refer offenders to resources rather than laying charges.
Droit-inc met with the Minister.
What is wrong with mandatory minimum sentences and the Drugs Act right now? Why were these changes necessary?
In one sentence, nothing works. With mandatory minimum sentences and the impossibility of resorting to conditional sentences, we do not have the flexibility to try people fairly and effectively.
Indigenous people represent 5 percent of the population but 30 percent of inmates. The same goes for black people, who make up 3 percent of the population and 7.2 percent of those incarcerated in federal institutions. The proportion of people charged in connection with an offense punishable by a mandatory minimum sentence is also higher for these minorities.
So PMOs were not introduced with racist intent, but they have a racist impact. When we look at the data, we see that after the addition of mandatory minimum sentences and the removal of the possibility of conditional sentences, in 2007-2008, there is a rise in the over-representation of black and aboriginal people in the system. incarceration.
It has also created bottlenecks in the system, as offenders often challenge the constitutionality of the minimum sentence or the lack of possibility of a conditional sentence. And several have won. Half of the challenges in Canada are for minimum sentences. It slows down the system.
What effects do you think these legislative changes will have on the justice system in the short term?
I believe that the impact should be fairly rapid on the overrepresentation of minorities in prisons. Also, the possibility of conditional sentences gives judges more leeway.
It opens the door to the possibility of restorative justice, to seek support for a person who suffers from addiction, to supervision by the community in the case of aboriginal people. These are programs that are much more effective than incarceration, especially to rehabilitate the person and prevent the risk of recidivism.
Did you rely on studies to develop the bill?
Yes, there are studies for everything. First, the elimination of mandatory minimum sentences and the possibility of conditional sentences were identified in various reports, notably that of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Commission on Missing Indigenous Women and Girls.
In terms of productive programs like restorative justice, there are pilot projects across Canada that are working very well and having a real impact, especially in the fight against recidivism.
Another impact that will unclog the legal system, therefore, if there is less recidivism.
Yes, just as getting the police to refer drug offenders to other options like a community justice center or an addiction program is also part of the solution. At the very least, we need to think about these ways of keeping people out of the justice system.
Here too, we should see much more positive results than with incarceration because an addiction problem is a health problem. We want to avoid criminalizing these people.
Would you go so far as to say that a stay in prison can cause more problems than it solves for these offenders?
Oh yes! Absolutely! One of the examples I often use is from a judgment. This is the case of a young man in his twenties in the far North who was studying, had a job and a girlfriend, a life well started. One evening when he is having a few drinks with a friend, he takes his hunting gun and shoots a few bullets at an abandoned building. No injuries, no damage, but a neighbor heard the gunshots and called the police.
He was sentenced to four years in prison, lost his job and his girlfriend did not complete his education. When he got out of prison, he only had friends that he had met in prison and moved in with them.
There is no point in a minimum sentence, especially in a case like this. We have to find alternative ways to combat certain social problems.
These changes had to be made to make the system fairer, more efficient, but also more sensitive to real problems.
Are you optimistic that this bill will pass?
We are at second reading in the House of Commons and we have a lot of support. The NDP, I believe the Bloc too. The Association of Police Chiefs has spoken in favor of the project, as has the Criminal Law Bar.
I hope it will pass before the next election. I would like it to be adopted before the end of the current session. There is a lot of support among the general population, so I hope my colleagues in the chamber will react accordingly.