The Liberal government have stated they intend to study the idea of creating exceptions to the Conservative parties controversial mandatory minimum sentences.
For those unfamiliar with the issue the former Conservative government passed a series of laws mandating jail time for offenders of certain crimes, such as:
selling a large volume of contraband tobacco, six months for distributing child pornography and five years for trafficking someone under age 18.
Without being pedantic, the legal definition of mandatory (as shown at the top of this article) does not permit an option to be disregarded or modified. So from a purely semantical point of view, to add a standardized set of exceptions to a mandatory law is ludicrous. The original law is no longer mandatory if it has exceptions, making a mockery of the entire definition.
There’s more problems with this plan aside from the semantics however. The first is the lack of study on the repercussions of the original Mandatory Minimum Sentences. The original intent of Mandatory Minimums was to take a “tough on crime” approach to reduce crime levels. Critics of the “tough on crime” approach state that it doesn’t work. However, without comprehensive study on the repercussions of enacting the Mandatory Minimums specifically in Canada there’s no objective way to determine whether being tough on crime reduces the rates. Not only does shifting the law make it impossible to study repercussions, it allows critics to subjectively say that the approach doesn't work.
This relegates the debate over approaches to crime to purely subjective opinions. At best critics will form objective opinions using evidence from other countries, making their conclusions pretty inconclusive. At worst critics of tough on crime will baselessly critique the narrative reducing the overall debate on the issue to mud slinging.
The other major problem is how redundant this move is. The supreme court has already set precedent for exceptions to mandatory minimums. They have done it on two occasions. Without getting into the specifics of cases, the judges that overturned the rulings have created a situation where “ thousands of people each year will serve less time in jail”.
The reason the Trudeau government is eyeing changes to Mandatory Minimums has a lot to do with PR. Justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould has said:
“The government supports the use of mandatory minimum penalties for the most serious crimes, and crucially, only where they are consistent with the Charter.”
If they successfully defend mandatory minimums they will appear like they support Conservative rhetoric on crime, blurring the crucial distinction between the parties that won the Liberals the election.
If they unsuccessfully defend Mandatory Minimums the Supreme Court could force a review of the legislation creating a PR headache for a government who now has to craft legislation against something they support, while having lost a legal battle that would likely be in the publics eye.
Unless the Liberals can present evidence regarding Mandatory Minimums one way or another, they are in for a lose lose situation of subjective politicking and lawmaking.