Elizabeth May introduces private member’s bill to abolish mandatory minimums

On Thursday, May 5th, 2016 in Private Members Bills
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(OTTAWA) May 5, 2016 - Elizabeth May, Leader of the Green Party of Canada (MP, Saanich-Gulf Islands), today introduced a private member’s bill in the House of Commons that aims to abolish most mandatory minimums in the criminal justice system.

“As we face crises of overcrowding in our prisons and overrepresentation of Indigenous and Black inmates, we need to re-examine the role that mandatory minimums play in perpetuating overincarceration and systemic discrimination,” Ms. May said. “The Supreme Court has found multiple times that mandatory minimums constitute ‘cruel and unusual punishment.’ This private member’s bill addresses the crisis imposed by mandatory minimum sentences. We cannot delay the conversation any longer.

“As Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin has noted: ‘[Mandatory minimum sentences] function as a blunt instrument that may deprive courts of the ability to tailor proportionate sentences at the lower end of a sentencing range.’ And a recent report from the Office of the Correctional Investigator found that Aboriginal and Black incarceration grew by 50% and 69% respectively between 2005 and 2015. Clearly, this is a crisis that needs to be addressed,” Ms. May said.

Dimitri Lascaris, Green Party Justice Critic, said: “It is inhumane to subject a broad range of conduct to significant terms of imprisonment, even where the conduct does not merit severe punishment. Mandatory minimum sentences deprive courts of the discretion they ought to have to order punishments that fit the crime. Such sentences are particularly inappropriate in the drug context, where effective rehabilitation, and not prolonged imprisonment, is often the best way to address the conduct of the offender.”

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  • sdgreen46

    I do not agree with this Bill. The major problem is that across Canada the Judicial system is weak in sentencing in such a variety of ways, that folks really get annoyed.
    It is as if the Courts are way more passionate towards criminals as opposed to victims, and, that is not justice. Secondly, our jail system is way too soft giving prisoners too many perks. I do not believe for one moment that the so called notion of ‘rehabilitation’ in jails really works.
    The other problem that ‘really’ needs to be addressed is the ‘sloth’ like process in the Court system; delays caused ‘on purpose’ (apparently) by Defence Lawyers, which in turn is causing immense issues in pre-trial jails. Justice MUST be swift and STRONG.
    I believe in the notion that mandatory sentences should be given for:
    1. Illicit Drug Dealing in any form of at least 5 years;
    2. Any use of a firearm in commission of a crime of at least ten years;
    3. Criminal Injury or death of a victim of a mandatory life (life meaning life)
    4. Robbery using any weapon whether real or not a term of not less than 10 years;
    Further, for multiple crimes, we must get rid of ‘consecutive’ jail terms in favour of ‘consecutive’ sentencing terms.
    Finally, for horrendous crimes of 1st degree and some 2nd degree murders, consideration to re-establish the ‘death penalty’ should be considered.

    • Doris Routliffe

      As a former correctional officer in a provincial “treatment” facility, I also disagree with this bill. Most criminals do calculate their risks, prior to committing an offence, which include the length of potential prison sentences. Sentences should be consecutive rather than concurrent. Yes, justice must be seen as swift and predictable, including “three strikes” and you are declared an incorrigible offender.

      • Peter Lehman

        I am glad that you put quotation marks around the word “treatment”. You have clearly identified the problem. Incarceration is simply a way of bullying the bullies. Like that helps. If incarceration was any kind of effective “treatment”, there would be no “incorrigible offenders”. Yes, of course they calculate the “risks”. Have you ever gotten a speeding ticket? What makes that thinking any different? Rehabilitation and reconciliation requires more than “I’m bigger and stronger than you and I can hurt you” threats. Or consequences. How many inmates ever left changed “for the better”? How is incarceration helping their families? Their children? Their communities? If we could punish an individual without harming everyone around them it might be different, but we can’t. Reconciliation requires making amends for harm. A society that ostracizes its most vulnerable and difficult members is no better than a grade school bully We need to grow up. Peace.

    • Arno S.

      In many European countries, we see lower incarceration rates and also lower crime rates than in Canada. The US has much higher incarceration rates than Canada and also much higher crime rates. So which system should we attempt to emulate?

      • Peter Lehman

        Excellent point.

  • Invest in Knowledge

    Elizabeth May, you do realize some of those who have mandatory minimums are street level dealers taking only small amnts to street corner, while rest of the dope is stashed in rental drug houses in neighborhoods, putting families and children and seniors at risk of drug related crime.

    • Peter Lehman

      See Candace O’Conner, above. There are better systems in the world. We have work to do. Drug related crime is crime that is related to addiction. How about we decriminalize medical conditions so that those people can get the help that they need without going to jail? The jails are full of people who need doctors, not guards. While they are incarcerated, these people are not contributing to society in any way, their families and communities are not able to support them and in fact are actively contributing to the problem by ostracizing them when they most need our help. If it didn’t work in grade school, why do we think it will work with adults? Peace!

      • Invest in Knowledge

        Drug related crime is crime related to addiciton and a full
        rehabilitation program should be mandatory to help those addicted
        become drug-free and no longer vicitms but also no longer
        creating victims related to drug-related crime.

        As for the drug dealers, street level dealers are trying to profit off
        the misery of the addicted and everyone has right to live in drug-free neighborhoods, where drug dealing is not tolerated.

  • Candace O’Connor

    Finland is far and away ahead of us when it comes to crime. The philosophy there is that if someone commits a crime, then it is the fault of society in not having socialized the person, and they are given retraining to make them understand how society works and how the must fit in! They aren’t given up to the hungry maw of the prison system, but given the attention and help they need. It is a far more humane and caring society that looks out for everyone!

    • Peter Lehman

      Finland has a much better understanding of “accountability” and responsibility”. I taught for 25 years. I realized very early on that if the child did not understand something it was my fault as the teacher, not the child’s fault. In the same way, an individual tempted by crime of any kind is a message to the society as a whole that the society has work to do. Thank you for sharing. Peace!

  • Peter Lehman

    1000% in favour. The criminal justice system fails the Canadian public so badly on both the victim and the offender side that were any other organisation or system to treat Canadian citizens the same way it would be considered a criminal act. Minimum sentences are a great place to start. This kind of Draconian thinking has no place in an educated society. Punishment as a method of reducing crime is and has always been largely a failure, as evidenced only partly by our overcrowded jails. If punishment and the threat of punishment actually worked, we would not need the word “recidivism” and all the jails would be empty. There are better methods. Don’t even get me started on the logic behind putting drug addicts in jail. I just get angry. I wish people would get off their self righteous high horses and show some compassion for each other. It is easy to sit in judgement, and difficult to actually try to understand the issues. Reconciliation is difficult but heals individuals, families, communities and societies. Jails just create more criminals. It is our responsibility, as a society that is capable of understanding the issues, to actually come to terms with the issues and understand them, and not let our smug self-righteousness beguile us into jumping to conclusions and overgeneralizing. We are capable of much more than that and our society will shine all the more brightly when we start manifesting that potential. Peace!

  • DrMJW

    Strongly favor ending minimal mandatory sentences; not locking people up repeatedly on breaches; find out why they aren’t walking to their appointments; move to house calls rather than leaving it on the person who has a PO; meet for coffee instead of locking these people up; make the sentence match the offense; address mental health issues head on; use retired physicians to do the counselling

  • canadisk

    . . .incarceration is “as punishment not for punishment”, as the ED of the Elizabeth Fry organization says . . . those who have such strident opinions on the correctional systems in this country who themselves have no first-hand experience, demean and diminish their views presented . . . the idea that capital punishment should ever be reconsidered in the discourse of a free democratic society beggars imagination and harps back to a time when blind, religious beliefs held sway . . this private member’s bill may just be the incentive the Liberal Gov’t has needed to correct more of the previous regime’s legacy

  • James Bodie

    If we can’t trust our judges to judge appropriately, why were they appointed as judges? All judgements, except those by the Supreme Court, are subject to appeal. Minimum sentences are not necessary. They lead to the kind of draconian, medieval system that the United States has inflicted on itself, and as a result has more people in prison than any other country on the planet, China included. (Has anyone watched the most recent season of “The Good Wife”? An interesting insider view of the American penal system.)

  • Carol Lever

    I absolutely agree with this Bill going forward, further to recommend that police officers and lawyers are placed within the school system as educators to work in each elementary school, secondary school or post graduate institution to teach age appropriate case law based upon our Canadian Constitution, from ground zero progressively covering the Criminal Code of Canada, Human Rights Legislation, Business Law, and other aspects of legal justice issues in progressive lessons by also introducing new programming through legislated reform measures to lead the transitioning social justice system to real time representation and educational modules. Police officers and lawyers also make wonderful teachers who can work as part of an educational team to teach students about the law from day one to deliver the work force of tomorrow, with global law firms. As well, such an initiative can , better contribute to proactive community policing, as a crime prevention component. Constant quality improvement should guide the governmental agenda.

  • Terry Lawrence

    I’m curious as to why you have decided to exclude “treason” along with murder? What exactly is “treason”? When a political party or prime minister sells out the interests of Canada for personal gain, is that not Treason? When a Prime Minister has run on a platform that clearly stated in as many words “This will be the last First Past the Post Election” and then announces he will not be proceeding with electoral reform after being elected on a promise to implement it, is that not a betrayal of trust: ie, “treason”? Treason takes many forms, perhaps the least of which is “spying” for another country, whatever that means, Most of the CSIS spying is done on behalf or and in the interests of foreign countries like the US and Britain and often to the detriment of Canada and Canadians. When a “Financial Advisor” betrays the trust of his/her clients and steals their money, is that not “treason”? There is obviously a need for flexible sentencing regarding treason as it takes so many forms.

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