Vancouver lawyers return to court today (June 5) in a case that could see the Conservative government’s mandatory minimum sentences for drug offences eventually repealed.
Earlier this year, a B.C. provincial court judge ruled unconstitutional an automatic one-year prison term for a person repeatedly convicted of dealing narcotics. Judge Joseph Galati found that a mandatory minimum sentence violates section 12 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which states that every citizen has the right to not be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment.
Lawyers for the federal government appealed that decision, which concerns a 2012 amendment to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. And so the case is entering the B.C. Court of Appeal.
In a telephone interview, Adrienne Smith, health and drug policy staff lawyer for Pivot Legal Society, said she is hopeful Galati’s decision will be upheld.
“Mandatory minimum sentences are not good public policy for anyone,” she told the Straight. “In our view 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.”
The case concerns Joseph Ryan Lloyd, a 25-year-old resident of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. According to court documents, Lloyd is a long-time drug user with 21 prior convictions. He was arrested in March 2013 and in September convicted on three counts of trafficking relatively small amounts of heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine.
In a January 2014 ruling openly sympathetic to the defendant, Galati noted that Lloyd was a low-level dealer only selling drugs to support his own addictions. Galati stated he would therefore sentence the young man to 191 days in addition to time served, instead of the minimum of one-year.
Smith maintained that a drug offence related to addiction should be treated as a medical issue and dealt with by health-care workers, not a criminal matter where the individual in question is made the responsibility of a prison.