SCC ruling won't bring flood of lighter sentences

Apr 22, 2015 By Matthew Friedberg
The Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling against a law that sets out mandatory minimums for gun crimes is a fair and just decision, but it likely won’t result in a flood of convicted people receiving lighter sentences for these offences, says Toronto criminal lawyer Matthew Friedberg.

“The ruling is an implicit recognition of the conventional wisdom in legal circles that mandatory minimums don’t accomplish what they were intended to do,” he tells AdvocateDaily.com. “This decision is a victory for people of the view that mandatory minimums shouldn’t be imposed and that judicial discretion should be exercised.”

Friedberg emphasizes, however, that the decision won’t bring major changes to the way most convicted persons are sentenced because the SCC noted that the ranges that were part of the law are fair in most cases that come before the courts.

“In practicality, I don’t think much is going to change in terms of quantum of jail time for most gun cases,” he says. “I think the Supreme Court was clear that the (no longer) mandatory minimum ranges are appropriate in most instances. The drug dealer on the street who is caught possessing a handgun is still likley going to get three years and not two. It will allow some room for argument in the future though."

The 6-3 ruling in R. v. Nur, 2015 SCC 15, strikes down the three-year mandatory minimum sentence for a first offence of possessing a loaded prohibited gun, as well as the five-year minimum for a second offence.

The mandatory minimums became law in 2008 as part of a federal government omnibus bill, reports the Canadian Press.

Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, in writing for the majority in Nur, says the statute as it was written to apply to mandatory minimum sentences for gun crimes was unconstitutional.

“As the Court of Appeal concluded, there exists a 'cavernous disconnect' between the severity of the licensing-type offence and the mandatory minimum three-year term of imprisonment,'' says the decision.

“The government has not established that mandatory minimum terms of imprisonment act as a deterrent against gun-related crimes. Empirical evidence suggests that mandatory minimum sentences do not, in fact, deter crimes," it says.

In this case, the SCC was deciding two gun-crime appeals brought by provincial and federal attorneys general.