Mandatory minimum sentences likely to infringe Charter rights

Last week, I stood beside former Minister of Justice and current Liberal Opposition Justice Critic, Irwin Cotler, MP for Mount Royal, Quebec, Sean LeBlanc, Chairperson for Drug Users Advocacy League, and Caleb Chepesiuk of AIDS Committee of Ottawa to release Pivot's new report: Throwing Away the Keys: the Human and Social Cost of Mandatory Minimum Sentences.

Our report, the result of a year-long research project that begun with 19 life-story interviews of low-income, marginalized people who use drugs, documents some pressing concerns with the Safe Streets and Communities Act, including the real likelihood that enforcement of these new laws will raise Charter infringements.

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Throwing Away the Keys - and our press conference in front of the Supreme Court of Canada - is a "call to arms" to the legal profession.  In the report, we discuss how in the past certain mandatory minimum sentences that applied to people who are dependent on substances went unchallenged.  There could be any number of reasons why that is the case, including access to legal resources, proper contextual framing of the issues, or just expediency.  In any case, regardless of the result for any particular individual, the result for marginalized communities as a whole is unjust.  

Legislation that is discriminatory and infringes the Charter rights of the most marginalized people in our society cannot be allowed to stand.  One effective way to reverse this misguided legislation is for lawyers representing people captured by these provisions to challenge them in court using some or all of the grounds discussed in this report.  With the support of the legal community and non-governmental organizations working in partnership, we can overturn these mandatory minimum sentences and restore more balance to the justice system for people who live on the margins of our society._MG_6185.JPG

We are sincere in our invitation to the legal community to approach Pivot and other NGOs with proposals to collaborate on legal cases to better frame impacts to marginalized communities.  If we work together, we can fight back against the injustices for people living in poverty and dependent on drugs that are embodied in the Safe Streets and Communities Act.

If you haven't had a chance to read the new report, it's free and available for download right now.