Pivot Legal Society report details potential negative effects of mandatory minimum sentences

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      Pivot Legal Society lawyer Scott Bernstein is hoping a new report released today (May 30) will act as a “call to arms” for lawyers across the country to challenge mandatory minimum sentences for marginalized drug users.

      Bernstein, who co-authored the report, said the legal society identified some Charter rights that it believes will be affected by mandatory minimum sentences for a range of drug crimes. The sentencing provisions were introduced in the Conservative government’s omnibus crime legislation that was passed by Parliament in March 2012.

      “It’s not a political move anymore—we’re looking to activate and inspire people to bring legal action to challenge these,” Bernstein told the Straight by phone today (May 30) after releasing the report in front of the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa. “The way the laws get struck down is through them being unconstitutional, and so that’s the strongest leg we have to go in with this.”

      The report argues that sections 7 and 15 of Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms “open new avenues for challenging the constitutionality of the amendments brought about by the SSCA (Safe Streets and Communities Act).”

      “Our focus was when you talk about specifically a marginalized low-income community of people who use drugs that are caught in the net of this legislation, the impact is actually much more severe, and so it’s actually quite a severe and harmful infringement of charter rights, we’re expecting,” said Bernstein.

      According to Pivot, the report's findings suggest that certain provisions in the federal legislation will disproportionately affect "people living with drug dependence, Aboriginal people, and youth in or leaving the foster care system".

      Berstein added that low-income people dependent on drugs tend to struggle with other challenges.

      “It’s well documented that people don’t just randomly become addicted to strong hard drugs,” he said. “A lot of it has to do with childhood trauma, has to do with abuse, it has to do with mental health issues, and it has to do with poverty. So all of these issues intersect.”

      Pivot’s report is based on a year-long research study and 19 “life story” interviews with low-income drug users in Vancouver and Victoria.

      Aside from mandatory minimum sentences for drug offences, Pivot’s other concerns with the omnibus crime legislation include restrictions of the use of conditional sentences, changes to the conditions under which pardons can be granted, and changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

      The report argues that “tough on crime” measures included in the Conservative government’s omnibus crime legislation are not an effective deterrent for low-income people who are drug dependent, and that they will have a negative impact on the health of these communities.

      “The effects of longer and more frequent periods of incarceration include deepening drug dependence, transmission of diseases, psychological harms, failure to develop healthy coping and interpersonal skills, learned dependence on the prison institution, loss of supportive and protective relationships, loss of future employment opportunities and elevated rates of recidivism,” the report reads.

      The full report, titled “Throwing Away the Keys: The Human and Social Cost of Mandatory Minimum Sentences,” is available at Pivot Legal Society’s website.




      May 30, 2013 at 6:54pm

      For the people who want to be 'tough on crime' consider the fact that 95%+ of Prisoners will be released back into society some on your streets.

      What kind of individual do you want released into your City and neighbourhoods?

      Someone who has learnt more hard core Crime and/or has become a person who cares even less about society than when they went in?

      Is that the type of person you want walking your streets?

      Or do we push for providing Education and Skills training for them to better themselves?

      How about effective security within Jails so that there is less assaults, less drugs and more humane treatment of people?

      Or do we want animals and hard core predators that have developed because of the hard core environment within Prisons to be released back on our streets?

      Instead we have the ultra right wing types who prefer to dole out Corporate Welfare to large private Prison Corporations that profit from Jails.

      This is US style far right wing politics/policy and look how well it's (not) working out there.

      Even in Texas they are moving away from mandatory Prison time to rehab like Education and Job Skills training in exchange for reduced sentences for people who really turn themselves around.


      May 30, 2013 at 9:58pm

      "Tough on crime measures are not an effective
      detterent for low-income people,who are drug
      dependant, but, being out on the street, continued drug use, no employment, no supports, no housing
      also, has a negative impact on the health of our

      Mandatory minimums is a bandaid approach costs a lot
      of tax $$ and those,w ho need rehabilitation and
      supports will not get it!

      Jeff Buziak

      May 31, 2013 at 7:04am

      Lets not make this a take sides thing like people normally do. Consider both more severe deterrents and more inclusive rehabilitation/skills training are required together. A slap on the wrist isn't working either. Both methods are required or nothing will be accomplished.

      One Family

      Jun 2, 2013 at 12:25pm

      People legislating 'tough-on-crime' laws live in ivory towers. As article says, the marginalized souls of our community use drugs to cope with the hard-done situation they're in. If society promoted greater equality over the long term, kids will be raised with better values, good food, good health. Ironically, minimum sentences for minor infractions will only set us back further as finding employment will be much more difficult and go further into a tailspin.