Why mandatory minimums are unjust.

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Dear ,

Policing doesn’t simply begin and end at the hands of police officers.

It includes many overlapping laws and structures that criminalize Indigenous, Black, racialized, and low-income people.

One such criminalizing structure is the use of mandatory minimum sentences. For almost twenty years, the BCCLA has advocated for mandatory minimums to be abolished. Mandatory minimum penalties limit judicial discretion and bring us closer to becoming a prison society that emphasizes incarceration over rehabilitation.

Last month, the federal government put forward Bill C-22, proposing several amendments to Canada’s criminal law and drug laws. The bill proposes removing mandatory minimums for all drug offences under the Controlled Drug and Substances Act and for some offences under the Canada’s Criminal Code.

Mandatory minimums have a disproportionate impact on Indigenous and Black people; even the federal government admits this. This reality is made clear by the staggering number of Indigenous people, particularly Indigenous women, incarcerated in Canada’s prison system. Mandatory minimums in Canada’s drug laws... also criminalize drug userst is a positive step that Bill C-22 repeals mandatory minimums for all drug offences.

But Bill C-22 does not go far enough. It still retains about 20 mandatory minimum penalties under the Criminal Code. We must remove all mandatory minimum penalties.

There are dozens of different offences in the Criminal Code that carry mandatory minimum sentences of imprisonment. They take away the judge’s ability to consider individual, proportionate factors during sentencing or systemic factors such as the impacts of colonialism.

In 2014, we produced a comprehensive report on the harms of mandatory minimums. We have also intervened in multiple cases dealing with the constitutionality of mandatory minimums. We won in each case, and the Supreme Court of Canada struck down certain mandatory minimum penalties as unconstitutional.

Bill C-22 also does not fully decriminalize simple drug possession. It retains discretionary policing powers, including warnings, charges and criminal prosecutions. While the bill makes some effort to treat drug use as an issue of health and human rights, this retention of police discretion and surveillance is unacceptable.

This is a time for a reckoning for criminalizing systems. We must demand meaningful change, not piecemeal reforms that continue to perpetuate the same harms.

In the next few weeks, you’ll be hearing from us as we share our efforts in fighting these damaging policing and criminalizing powers.

You know we cannot stand idly by. For you and I to see real change, you know this is going to take a fight.

We’re a small organization, taking big actions against powerful institutions. With you by our side, we can challenge these big powers.

Sincerely,

Meghan McDermott (she/her)
Interim Policy Director & Senior Staff Counsel

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