Mandatory Minimums Challenge Heard by B.C. Court of Appeal

Pivot Legal Society intervenes at the BC Court of Appeal arguing mandatory minimum sentences unconstitutional for drug crimes

For Immediate Release: June 5, 2014

Vancouver - This morning, the BC Court of Appeal began hearing the case of Joseph Lloyd, a Downtown Eastside resident who successfully challenged the federal law on mandatory minimum sentences for drug offences. Mr. Lloyd was convicted of possession for the purpose of trafficking which carries a new 1-year mandatory minimum jail term since March 2012, when the Safe Streets and Communities Act alternately known as Bill C-10 and the “Omnibus Crime Bill” amended section 5 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA).

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Using the law as a catalyst for positive social change, Pivot Legal Society works to improve the lives of marginalized communities.

In January of this year Provincial Court Judge Galati heard Mr. Lloyd's case, and found the mandatory minimum sentence for drug trafficking could lead to cruel and unusual punishment, declaring it to be of no force and effect. The Federal Crown appealed the sentence, and Pivot and the BCCLA were granted leave to intervene in April.

“Mandatory minimum sentences are not good public policy for anyone” says Adrienne Smith, a lawyer with the Pivot Legal Society, who is co-counsel on the intervention. “They may amount to cruel and unusual punishment, particularly for offenders who are women, aboriginal, and people involved in the drug trade because of their addiction”. 

There has been a mandatory minimum sentence for Canada’s drug laws in the past: a 7-year mandatory minimum jail term for importation under the Narcotic Control Act (the predecessor to the CDSA), which was struck down as unconstitutional in 1987 in a case called R v Smith. Pivot recently spoke out against the new mandatory minimum sentences in its 2013 report Throwing Away the Keys: The human and social cost of mandatory minimum sentences. 

Pivot’s submissions on the intervention will focus on the disproportionate effect of the mandatory minimum sentence for possession for the purpose of trafficking on women, on aboriginal people, and on people who are involved in the drug trade because of their addiction. “Drug addiction is a medical issue which should be addressed by doctors, not jails”, said Smith. “We are hopeful that BC Court of Appeal will uphold the Provincial Court’s decision”.

Media Contact: Adrienne Smith, lawyer, Pivot Legal Society

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