Mandatory Minimum for Repeat Trafficking Struck Down by Supreme Court

A Supreme Court ruling has found a trafficking-related mandatory minimum sentence inappropriate.

Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin has struck down the validity of the Conservative government’s mandatory sentencing in relation to drug trafficking charges.

Joseph Ryan Lloyd was convicted of possession of drugs for the purpose of trafficking, but, due to a prior conviction for a similar offence, he was subject to a mandatory minimum sentence of one year in prison under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. 

McLachlin said, while the sentence of a year may be appropriate in this specific case, it may not be in other hypothetical instances of the same charge.

“The mandatory minimum sentence provision covers a wide range of potential conduct,” McLachlin wrote in her decision. “As a result, it catches not only the serious drug trafficking that is its proper aim, but conduct that is much less blameworthy. This renders it constitutionally vulnerable.”

McLachlin wrote that the law would unfairly be applied to both professional drug-dealers who are multiple, repeat offenders and cannabis users charged with the same offence after sharing their supply with friends when they’ve had a similar charge up to nine years int he past.

“Most Canadians would be shocked to find that such a person could be sent to prison for one year,” McLachlin wrote.

“Another foreseeable situation caught by the law is where a drug addict with a prior conviction for trafficking is convicted of a second offence,” McLachlin wrote.  “In both cases, he was only trafficking in order to support his own addiction. Between conviction and the sentencing he attends rehabilitation and conquers his addiction. He comes to court asking for a short sentence that will allow him to resume a healthy and productive life. Under the law, the judge has no choice but to sentence him to a year in prison. Such a sentence would also be grossly disproportionate to what is fit in the circumstances and would shock the conscience of Canadians.”

While not finding the laws unconstitutional, McLachlin wrote that the government may want to review providing judges with discretion in applying the mandatory minimum sentences based on specific cases.

“Whether Parliament should enact judicial safety valves to mandatory minimum sentences and if so, what form they should take, are questions of policy that are within the exclusive domain of Parliament,” McLachlin wrote. “The only limits on Parliament’s discretion are provided by the Constitution and in particular, the Charter right not to be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment. [The charge in question] does not exceed this limit and does not amount to cruel and unusual punishment.”

The full text of the decision can be found, here.