The Supreme Court attacks the length of the sentences, including that of Alexandre Bissonnet.

The Alexandre Bissonnet case will be the culmination of a busy week in which the Supreme Court will be called upon to review the sentences given to the nation’s worst killers, as well as those who have committed smaller crimes.

In the most anticipated case this Thursday, the country’s highest court will face a specific question: after pleading guilty to six murders at the Grand Mosque of Quebec, should Alexandre Bissonnet wait 50 years before gaining access to parole, as allowed by law. law passed in 2011? Or will he be able to claim it after 25 years in prison?

But this week, the Supreme Court decided to hear four more such cases, all of which involve harsher sentences that took place under the Harper government from 2008 to 2012. These are sentences that, according to several experts, have a particularly negative impact on indigenous communities across the country.

On Tuesday, the court will consider the reasons Jessie Dallas Hills, Ocean Hilbach as well as Curtis Zvozdeskyto decide whether they should all inherit four years of the minimum sentence for illegal use of firearms.

The next day, nine judges will focus on the case of Cheyenne Sharma, an indigenous woman who smuggled two kilos of cocaine in her suitcases on behalf of human traffickers. Should she have had access to a suspended sentence, or should the judge have sent her to prison for the crime she committed?

Taken together, these five cases will allow the Supreme Court to determine whether prison sentences handed down under the Harper government are in line with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

This is not a criminal process, but a constitutional process to actually judge these sentences.says Patrick Tylon, professor of law at Laval University.

Patrick Tylon, professor at Laval University (archive)

Photo: Radio Canada

Lisa Kerr, professor of law at the university Queenadds that the introduction of mandatory minimum sentences has largely served political mobilization efforts over the years.

Other governments have introduced similar measures before, but they were actually part of the flagship proposals of the Harper regime.she said.

Bissonnette File

The Supreme Court will consider a law passed by the Conservatives in 2011 aimed at repeal reduced sentences for several murders.

Under this new regime, individuals accused of multiple murders may be forced to wait 25 years per victim before being eligible for parole, rather than a single period of 25 years.

A sign indicating that we are at the Supreme Court of Canada, in Ottawa.

Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa (archived)

Photo: The Canadian Press/Adrian Wilde

Dissatisfied with the options available to him in the Alexandre Bissonnet case, the trial judge sentenced a man who pleaded guilty to killing six people to a minimum sentence of 40 years. This decision was overturned by the Court of Appeal, which reduced the minimum sentence to 25 years without the possibility of parole.

The lawsuit is ongoing, alleging that a minimum prison term of 50 years would be the only one that can adequately express and reflect the primacy of the goals of denunciation and deterrence.

Alexandre Bissonnette, aged 27 at the time of the massacre in 2017, responds that he deserves to be heard by a parole board after 25 years in prison.

The parole term of 50 years is excessive, overwhelming, unfair, highly inappropriate, and highly disproportionate to the defendant. »

Quote from Alexandre Bissonnet’s defense is filed in the Supreme Court of Canada.

Professor Tylon says this file illustrates perverse effect the current law, which offers the families of the victims the possibility that the perpetrator will be imprisoned for the rest of his life, without giving any hope of release to the detainee.

Mandatory minimum penalty […] creates somewhat inflated expectations among the victims. This plunges us into an unfavorable dynamic where any punishment of less than 150 years is [vue] like a defeat for the victimshe said.

Contested fines:

  1. Alexandre Bissonnet: The power of judges to add a 25-year sentence for every first-degree murder to eligibility for parole has been in place since 2011.
  2. Ocean Hilbach as well as Curtis Zvozdesky : four-year minimum sentence for robbery with a firearm, adopted in 2008.
  3. Jessie Dallas Hills : four-year minimum sentence for the crime of careless handling of a firearm, adopted in 2009.
  4. Cheyenne Sharma: Restrictions on conditional sentencing for offenses related to import/export, trafficking or production of drugs have been in place since 2012.

Source: Justice Canada.

Systemic racism

Lisa Kerr argues that mandatory minimum sentences raise many questions about the treatment of Aboriginal people and some minority groups in Canada.

Their overrepresentation in Canada’s prisons has reached an unacceptable level, she says, and the whole system needs to rethink how it does it.

Mandatory minimum sentences prevent judges from deciding on a case-by-case basis, depending on the facts before them.said Lisa Kerr in an interview. In several cases involving illegal firearms and drug trafficking, several judges found that the minimum sentence they should have received was grossly disproportionate.

Daniel LeBlanc

Lawyers for Cheyenne Sharma, for example, say she should have been given a suspended prison sentence instead of a mandatory two-year prison sentence. She was 20 years old when she committed the crime, at a time when she was in danger of losing her home and could no longer take care of her daughter.

According to his lawyers, the mandatory minimum sentence should only apply to cases so serious that, even under the most favorable circumstances, a minimum penalty would be appropriate.

With Bill C-5, Trudeau’s government has already begun the legislative process to remove about 20 mandatory minimum sentences from the Penal Code and the Drugs and Substances Act. Under this new regime, Cheyenne Sharma could have avoided prison.

Minimum sentences have an exaggerated impact on indigenous peoples in the penitentiary system, as well as blacks and other members of the race. This is statistically trueCanadian Attorney General David Lametti says.

According to him, Bill C-5 it is a way to directly combat systemic racism in the justice system and prisons.

David Lametti in profile speaks into a microphone.

Federal Attorney General David Lametti (file)

Photo: The Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick

However, the government says it will maintain mandatory minimum sentences for crimes such as murder, sex crimes, drunk driving and some crimes committed with firearms.

Above all, Patrick Tylon hopes that the Supreme Court will clearly establish the circumstances under which mandatory minimum sentences are acceptable, as well as the criteria that must be met to ensure their constitutionality.

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