Supreme Court strikes down mandatory minimum gun sentences

Minimum sentences described as "cruel and unusual" by Canada’s top court

The Supreme Court of Canada has struck down mandatory minimum sentences for some gun crimes, according to CBC News. In handing down its decision, the country’s top court described the mandatory minimum sentences as “cruel and unusual” punishments that violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Under the sentencing law, convicted firearm offenders faced minimum sentences of between three to five years in prison. The decision is just the latest instance of the Supreme Court quashing tough-on-crime laws passed by the federal government in recent years.

Mandatory minimum law

The mandatory minimum sentencing law for firearms offences was passed by Parliament in 2008. Under the law, first-time offenders faced a mandatory minimum sentence of three years in prison if they were convicted of possessing a prohibited loaded firearm. For repeat offenders, the minimum sentence was five years.

In striking down the law, the top court expressed concern about hypothetical possibilities where such sentences would be clearly disproportionate, according to the Globe and Mail. The court noted, for example, that a spouse may come into possession of her husband’s firearm without having the proper paperwork or a gun could unintentionally be stored in the wrong dwelling. The dissenting judges who voted to uphold the law argued that in such cases prosecutors could choose to pursue summary proceedings, which carry a much lower sentence.

Law struck down

The majority of the court, however, rejected that argument, noting that giving prosecutors such power would create a dangerous and unfair situation for defendants. The danger of subjecting otherwise law-abiding citizens to strict punishments because of an honest mistake would constitute a disproportionate and unconstitutional punishment. The court, therefore, struck down the mandatory minimum firearm sentences in a six-to-three decision.

The decision is not the first time the top court has pushed back against federal tough-on-crime legislation. The court has recently struck down laws against prostitution, assisted suicide and white-collar crime and has also softened a key sentencing law by ruling that offenders have a right to receive credit for time served during pretrial detention.

Criminal defence

Although the above mandatory minimum sentencing law has been struck down, firearm offences are nonetheless still taken extremely seriously by law enforcement agencies and prosecutors. People convicted of a firearms offence potentially face lengthy prison sentences and the long lasting consequences of a criminal record.

Anybody who has been charged with a gun crime should get in touch with a criminal defence lawyer who has plenty of experience in handling firearms cases. Firearms legislation can be highly complex and a knowledgeable lawyer will be able to provide the advice and guidance defendants need when fighting to uphold their rights.