Coalition urges federal government to repeal mandatory minimum sentencing laws

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Vancouver, B.C. [November 5]—Pivot Legal Society and the Union of BC Indian Chiefs are calling on the federal government to repeal harmful mandatory minimum sentences after being granted leave to co-intervene in a Supreme Court of Canada challenge to the sentencing policy.

Joseph Lloyd, a Vancouver Downtown Eastside resident, was charged and convicted with possession for the purpose of trafficking following his arrest for carrying just less than 10 grams of heroin, crack cocaine, and crystal methamphetamine. Under the Safe Streets and Communities Act enacted by the federal Conservative government in 2012, Mr. Lloyd’s conviction carries a one-year mandatory minimum jail term. However, Provincial Court Judge J. Galati found the mandatory minimum sentence could amount to cruel and unusual punishment and declined to impose the mandatory jail term. The government appealed, and the case will now be heard by the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) on January 13, 2016
R v Lloyd is the latest challenge to mandatory minimum sentences to be heard by the SCC. However, a new Liberal government could signal a shift from the punitive tough-on-crime regime implemented by the Conservatives under former Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
“We are totally optimistic that with the swearing in of the new Trudeau Government, and the strong dedication to Indigenous justice on the part of the new Justice Minister and Attorney General, Jody Wilson-Raybould, mandatory minimum sentencing will be fully repealed,” stated Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs. “We know all too well that Indigenous peoples are disproportionately overrepresented in prisons throughout Canada, rooted in the far-reaching and devastating impacts of colonialism and the related intergenerational impacts of Residential Schools. Accordingly, we must create the institutional changes necessary for transformation.” 
The Conservative government introduced dozens of mandatory jail sentences, most notably with the omnibus crime bill, the Safe Streets and Communities Act (SSCA) in March 12, 2012. Pivot Legal Society has challenged and intervened on several challenges to these sentences.
“The evidence is quite clear that one-size-fits-all jail sentences do little to address the root causes of drug use,” said Adrienne Smith, lawyer and Health and Drug Policy campaigner at Pivot Legal Society. “The federal government can end these unnecessary challenges to a harmful set of laws by repealing them and replacing them with a policy that treats drug addiction as a health problem, not a crime, and considers the unique circumstances that brings an individual before the court.”
Sentencing principles under s. 718.2(e) of the Criminal Code directs the courts to take into account non-custodial options, “with particular attention to the circumstances of Aboriginal offenders.” The purpose of this provision is to address the historical over-representation of Aboriginals in the criminal justice system.
In the SCC intervention in R v Lloyd by Pivot Legal Society and UBCIC, will argue that mandatory minimum jail terms make consideration of an offender’s Aboriginal heritage and the impact of colonialism on Indigenous people impossible. They will also argue that for women and for drug users, mandatory minimum sentences can be unconstitutional.
Gladue is intended to allow a Judge to take into account the unique circumstances that Indigenous peoples have experienced in sentencing; mandatory minimums mean that a Judge cannot apply Gladue,” said Grand Chief Phillip. “We need to reinvest in our people rather than invest in sustaining a prison system that further endangers them through long sentencing for minor offences.”
The application to intervene is available here.
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About Pivot Legal Society
Pivot Legal Society is a leading Canadian human rights organization that uses the law to address the root causes of poverty and social exclusion in Canada. Pivot’s award-winning work includes challenging laws and policies that force people to the margins of society and keep them there. Since 2002 Pivot Legal Society has won major victories for sex workers’ rights, police accountability, affordable housing, and health and drug policy. 

About Union of BC Indian Chiefs
The Union of BC Indian Chiefs was founded in 1969 and represents more than 100 First Nations in British Columbia. The UBCIC is a NGO in Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. More information at
For additional information or to schedule an interview, please contact:

For Pivot Legal Society:
Kevin Hollett
Communications Director
For Union of BC Indian Chiefs:
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip
President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs