While Bill C-22 is being discussed in Ottawa, statistics show mandatory minimums are impacting people of colour more than other groups.
Just under 5 per cent of the population is Indigenous but just under 30 per cent of the population in federal prisons is Indigenous.
Indigenous people are also more likely to be charged with a mandatory minimum sentence, with 20 per cent of Indigenous offenders facing mandatory minimums — that figure has doubled in the past decade.
Nearly half of visible minority offenders were admitted with a mandatory minimum offence as the most serious in the sentence.
Bill C-22 was tabled by Justice Minister David Lametti in February. If passed, it would repeal mandatory minimum sentences for all drug offences and some firearm offences, and expand the use of conditional sentencing.
Peter Harte, a defence lawyer who works in Yellowknife, says it is unlikely that mandatory minimums will be completely taken out of the Criminal Code. He added that if Bill C-22 passes, it would return the country to how mandatory minimums were handled before
During former prime minister Stephen Harper’s time in office, the number of federal offences where mandatory minimum sentences could be applied increased from 24 in 2004 to 72 in 2015.
That means more people were being sentenced using mandatory minimums, removing alternative options for sentencing for many crimes.
“So unless there’s a charter application, the mandatory minimum applies,” he said.
That’s outside of cases involving drugs and alcohol. Then creative sentencing can come into play, like in the instance with Mitchell Rankin vs. Her Majesty the Queen. Normally, rehabilitation happens after sentencing, but Rankin was able to complete rehabilitation before — due to backlogs in the courts caused by COVID-19.
That meant Rankin’s sentence was able to get a reduced sentence because he had completed rehabilitation before sentencing.
Harte says the case is an example of how more flexibility in sentencing can help in some circumstances.
But Harte said circumstances in the case likely wouldn’t happen again, because COVID-19 caused court backlogs.
“To go out for treatment, you need several meetings with a local drug and alcohol counselor or somebody who has the ability to refer people for treatment, and that’s going to take a few weeks,” he said. “By that point, you’re likely to have your court appearance.”
“It’s nice to know that you can take advantage of that decision in the event that you arrange to get your client out for treatment before the court appearance,” he added.