Recent developments in criminal law.


It will come as no surprise to anyone tuned into the current political situation in Canada that changes in our criminal laws over the last several years have been consistently in a single direction: that of creating more offences and imposing stiffer penalties. Relying upon its position that Canadian streets and communities are generally unsafe and dangerous places, the present Conservative government has brought in measures it claims to be necessary to address and alleviate this situation. Here are examples of some of the most notable.

Mandatory Minimum Sentences

Probably the most significant change when discussing recent changes in Canadian criminal law is the massive increase in mandatory minimum sentences. The Conservative government has limited the discretion of sentencing judges in many more situations than has ever been the case previously. And where offences already carried mandatory minimum penalties, the government has often increased the length and severity of those sentences.

Most sexual offences involving children now carry mandatory minimums. Previously, as with almost all other criminal offences, sentencing for these crimes was left to the discretion of the courts. Judges usually imposed jail sentences when sexual offences were committed against persons under the age of 18 years. However, the current government has changed the law so that almost all such offences are punishable by at least 90 days imprisonment (or to a minimum of one year imprisonment for more serious matters). More serious sexual offences against children bring with them even more severe mandatory punishments.

This government has also imposed mandatory minimum penalties where none existed previously for the production of illegal drugs. In 2012 the government enacted laws by which the growing of more than five marijuana plants is punishable by a minimum of 6 months imprisonment (larger numbers of plants brings longer mandatory minimums). Persons involved in the production of more harmful substances (including opium based drugs such as heroin; cocaine in any form; and methamphetamines, to name only a few) are subject to mandatory minimum sentences of at least two years imprisonment.

Impaired driving offences have long carried mandatory minimum penalties but in recent years, the government has increased the severity of those sentences. Since 2005, the mandatory minimum for a first offence has increased from a $600.00 fine to one of $1,000.00. The mandatory...

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