Mandatory Minimum Sentencing

September 2011

ACT opposes mandatory minimum sentencing for drug crimes.

For several years, Canada’s Parliament has debated bills on mandatory minimum sentencing, with the latest focus on drug crimes. The latest omnibus crime bill proposed by the federal government would remove judicial discretion and force courts to implement minimum sentence lengths for drug-related crimes.

Research and expertise in other jurisdictions has shown that this punitive approach is ineffective at curbing drug use or crime, is harmful to public health, hampers efforts to prevent HIV transmission, and will be unnecessarily expensive.

  • Jurisdictions that have implemented mandatory minimum sentencing for drug crimes have not shown success at reducing drug use or crime. Many of these jurisdictions are now moving away from this failed approach.
  • There is an HIV epidemic in Canada’s prisons, and the federal government is failing to address it. Putting more drug users in prisons – already a vulnerable group for HIV – will result in more HIV infections. The direct cost of every HIV infection in Canada is more than $370,000 over a lifetime 1.
  • Forcing courts to lengthen sentences, even when unwarranted, will require a massive expansion of prisons. Canada’s Parliamentary Budget Officer has estimated that the federal government’s new crime legislation will add 4,000 prisoners to the federal system, costing the correctional system an additional $1 billion every year.

ACT opposes the excessive use of the criminal law to address public health issues, and believes that everyone – including drug users – deserves access to health care and harm reduction information and programs.

Mandatory minimum sentences restrict the ability of courts to address drug crimes properly by applying a one-size-fits-all approach to all drug use and all drug users. We encourage the federal government and Members of Parliament to join other jurisdictions in abandoning this failed approach.

1. Lima, Hogg, and Montaner, 2010. Expanding HAART Treatment to All Currently Eligible Individuals Under the 2008 IAS-USA Guidelines in British Columbia, Canada.