OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada’s Supreme Court on Friday struck down two so-called tough-on-crime measures introduced by the former Conservative government, ruling the changes to sentencing practices were unconstitutional.
It was another ruling by the top court against the policies of former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who lost last year’s election.
In recent years, the court overturned a ban on physician-assisted suicide, blocked Harper’s plans to introduce elections to the Senate and struck down restrictions on adult prostitution.
In Friday’s first case, the court ruled six to three that the requirement of a one-year mandatory minimum prison sentence for drug offenses violated the guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment in the country’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The case came about after Joseph Ryan Lloyd was convicted of drug possession for trafficking purposes and was subject to a minimum one-year sentence due to a prior conviction for a similar offense.
Mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenders were enacted in 2012, part of changes the Conservatives made.
“The mandatory minimum sentence provision covers a wide range of potential conduct. As a result, it catches not only the serious drug trafficking that is its proper aim, but conduct that is much less blameworthy,” the court said.
It offered advice to the current Liberal government that if parliament wants to keep mandatory minimum sentences for offences that cast a wide net, it should consider narrowing their reach or allowing judicial discretion for a lesser sentence where appropriate.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he has tasked the justice minister with looking into the issue.
“There is a general sense, reinforced by the Supreme Court decision today, that mandatory minimums brought in by the previous government in a number of cases went too far,” Trudeau told reporters.
Michael Cooper, Conservative deputy justice critic, said he was disappointed by the rulings.
“Our party makes no apologies for the important legislative measures that we took in government to target gangs, organized crime and those involved in drug trafficking,” he told CBC.
In the second case, the court voted unanimously against denying enhanced credit for pre-sentence time spent in custody to those that had been denied bail primarily due to a prior conviction.
Reforms in 2009 limited credit in such cases to a one-to-one basis, rather than one-and-a-half days. The court ruled that the denial was overly broad.
The cases are R. v. Lloyd, 35982, R. v. Safarzadeh-Markhali, 36162.
Reporting by Leah Schnurr; Editing by James Dalgleish