Dangerous offender law declared unconstitutional by judge

Canada’s dangerous-offender designation has been declared unconstitutional by a British Columbia court.

Federal government is given one year to update "dysfunctional" legislation

Justice Peter Voith of the Supreme Court of British Columbia recently ruled that Canada’s dangerous offender law is unconstitutional, according to the Globe and Mail. Justice Voith described the law as “dysfunctional” and overly broad and has given the federal government a year to rewrite the legislation. Alternatively, the Crown may choose to appeal the ruling. The case pertained to a man who had been convicted of assault and a number of other offences that occurred in British Columbia, Ontario, and the United States in recent years.

Dangerous offender law

Canada’s dangerous-offender designation was updated as part of the federal government’s omnibus bill in 2008. That bill substantially limited judges’ discretion in designating a convicted felon a "dangerous offender," according to the Vancouver Sun. Specifically, if a person was convicted of at least three indictable offences then it became much easier to declare him or her a dangerous offender.

Being declared a dangerous offender, which requires judges to prioritize public safety when handing down sentences, can lead to an indeterminate sentence with no fixed release date. In many cases, an indeterminate sentence can mean the convicted person spends the rest of his or her life in prison.

Unconstitutional law

Justice Voith, however, noted that the 2008 law threatens to include those who do not necessarily pose a risk to society, but would rather benefit from treatment or rehabilitation. By declaring such people dangerous offenders, the law violates their constitutional rights, leading the court to declare the law void.

However, for the individual who brought forward the constitutional challenge, his dangerous-offender designation will remain since the justice’s declaration of the law’s invalidity has itself been suspended for a year. That suspension is meant to give the federal government time to amend the law to make it compliant with the Charter. At the same time, however, the Crown may also choose to appeal the ruling, which could ultimately bring the question of the law’s constitutionality to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Criminal defence

The above story should serve as a reminder of the seriousness of being charged with any criminal offence. Whether such charges pertain to drugs, violence, firearms, or any other category, it is imperative that defendants seek out an experienced criminal defence lawyer as soon as possible. The consequences of a conviction extend beyond potential jail time and may also include a criminal record, which can have severe repercussions when trying to maintain employment and make a living. A defence lawyer who has a proven track record of fighting aggressively for his clients can help anybody facing a criminal charge uphold his or her rights and freedoms.

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