In April 2018, our team of lawyers, along with counsel from Rosenberg Law, intervened at the Supreme Court of Canada in a case involving the mandatory victim fine surcharge: a post-sentencing fine of at least $100 dollars imposed on every person who commits an offence, regardless of severity. For people below the poverty line who are oftentimes convicted of minor, victimless crimes, this charge can be devastating. It can, for instance, amount to a third of one’s social assistance payments and make it nearly impossible to pay rent and put food on the table.
With no discretion to waive the surcharge, BC judges were routinely imposing jail time in lieu of payment, knowing that people simply could not pay. We argued successfully that the effects of the surcharge amount to cruel and unusual punishment, and therefore the mandatory surcharge must be struck down. The Supreme Court agreed, citing our submissions numerous times in its written decision. This change in law marks a major victory for people across Canada affected by the intersecting harms of poverty, homelessness, and substance use.