Bill C-5 received Royal Assent on November 17, 2022, reforming sentencing under the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. These sentencing reforms will help address the overrepresentation of Indigenous people, Black persons, racialized Canadians, and members of marginalized communities in the criminal justice system.
Is a Conditional Sentence Available for Drug Offences?
Yes! Recently, the Supreme Court of Canada in R. v. Sharma found that the restriction of conditional sentences for possession for the purpose, trafficking, and importing was constitutional. Bill C-5 has reversed this and now allows for conditional sentence for drug offences. The Bill goes one step further and states that “problematic substance use should be addressed primarily as a health and social issue.” This should shift the focus for most drug offences from punishment to rehabilitation to ensure the underlying drug addictions is addressed.
What is a Mandatory Minimum Sentence?
If you are convicted of certain offences, the starting point sentence is the mandatory minimum sentence. For example, discharge with intent contrary to section 244 of the Criminal Code has a 5-year mandatory minimum sentence. So, if you are convicted of this offence, the lowest sentence you can receive is 5 years in custody.
Bill C-5 repeals all mandatory minimum penalties previously under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, as well as for 14 offences under the Criminal Code. No minimum sentence will increase the sentencing options that a judge can consider during a sentencing hearing. Mandatory minimum sentences have always been criticized as limiting judicial discretion which would allow a judge to sentence everyone appropriately.
Is there systemic racism in the Canadian Criminal Justice System?
Parliament in Bill C-5 acknowledges systemic racism in the criminal justice system. The Honourable David Lametti in his press release about Bill C-5 said, “we have heard from the public, the courts, and criminal justice experts, and seen the evidence of the disproportionate representation of Indigenous people, Black persons, racialized Canadians, and members of marginalized communities, both as offenders and as victims.”