Supreme Court of Canada to hear challenge of mandatory minimum sentences

Ottawa, ON [January 12] — Pivot Legal Society and the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) will make oral submissions to the Supreme Court of Canada in Joseph Ryan Lloyd v. Her Majesty the Queen on Wednesday, January 13, in the first challenge to mandatory minimum sentences under the new Liberal government.

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. Mr. Lloyd told the court he was addicted to these three drugs, and he was paid for his work as a low-level drug trade worker with drugs. 

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. 

In the SCC intervention, Pivot Legal Society and UBCIC will remind the court that a cornerstone of Canadian criminal law is that sentences must be proportionate to the crime and to the level of guilt of the offender. They 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 also be unconstitutional because they prevent judges from considering personal characteristics of these offenders, who might otherwise have been given short or community-based sentences.

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.

Pivot Legal Society previously intervened in the Supreme Court of Canada cases R v Nur and R v Charles, which struck down mandatory minimum sentences earlier this year as they applied to firearms offences. The SCC found in those cases that the application of mandatory minimum sentences was “so excessive as to outrage standards of decency,” breaching the Charter section 12 protection against “cruel and unusual punishment.”

Pivot and UBCIC written submission to the Supreme Court of Canada is available here.

- 30 -
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 has won major victories for sex workers’ rights, police accountability, affordable housing, and health and drug policy.
For additional information or to schedule an interview, please contact:
Kevin Hollett, Communications Director