My name is Michael Spratt, and I'm here representing the Criminal Lawyers' Association.
In the interest of brevity, I won't go through the opening spiel. I've been here before, and you can check past transcripts to find out who we are and what we do. To cut to the chase, I'd like to talk about one thing predominantly, and that's the use of mandatory minimum sentences. I also have some comments on the registry and on further limits of judicial discretion through the use of mandatory consecutive sentences, but I'll begin with the minimum sentence point.
You've heard a bit about minimum sentences. Mr. MacKay was here. He testified before you. He said, “...mandatory minimums, the short answer is that we can't do enough to protect vulnerable children.“
This is the message that's being sent, that minimum sentences and harsher sentences make us safer. You know that's not true. You've been told that before. You've been told that by me, and you've been told that by other experts. The evidence suggests quite the opposite—minimum sentences don't make communities safer. They don't deter the commission of offences. They impede rehabilitation. They are costly, and they can be unconstitutional.
I refer you to the case of R. v. S.S., 2014, O.J., No. 1887 on Quicklaw, 2014 ONCJ 184, the neutral cite. That case deals with some of the very offences contemplated in this bill. It deals with the minimum sentence of 90 days, which is being increased to six months under this bill. In that case, there was a perilously close finding of unconstitutionality. It seems the only reason it wasn't found to be unconstitutional was that a reasonable hypothetical wasn't put by the parties and was created by the court, and the court didn't see fit to rule on something that wasn't argued before it.
Over the last eight years you've heard evidence about minimum sentences. Your own legislative summary from the Library of Parliament speaks of mandatory minimum sentences. You've heard from Dr. William Marshall, Mr. Randall Fletcher, Dr. Stacey Hannem, Craig Jones and Julian Roberts. All these experts have come and talked about how minimum sentences don't deter, how minimum sentences can actually increase danger.
Anthony Doob, a pre-eminent expert from the University of Toronto testified that “mandatory minimum penalties of this kind do not deter crime”. On February 4, just last week, Steve Sullivan testified, not only speaking to the ineffectiveness of minimum sentences but also how they can make the situation worse.
I don't need to go on about the evidence. It's been before you. It appears the government isn't listening to that evidence. Minimum sentences don't deter crime, and they don't make us safer.
There are many better uses of money than for minimum sentences and mandatory incarceration. You heard from James Foord last week about CoSA. Programs like this, programs that can rehabilitate, reintegrate, and prevent crime from happening in the first place are a better use of money than limiting judicial discretion.
There are downsides to minimum sentences. They will increase the use of court time. They are a perverse incentive for those who are innocent to plead guilty. Ironically, they are a perverse incentive to those who are factually and obviously guilty to go to trial, wasting court time and subjecting victims to testifying in the court process. But that doesn't seem to have resonated over the last eight years. I don't expect it will this time.
What I think the committee should be aware of is this. In addition to the cruel and unusual argument under section 12 of the charter, this committee should be worried about section 7 of the charter, and that is arbitrariness. When we are told that minimum sentences and the raising of sentencing tariffs keep us safer, deter crime, and prevent crime, I'm going to suggest to this committee that there is a danger that section 7 will be engaged; that is, that legislation is being proposed, and there is no connection between the legislation and the purported aims of that legislation. In that respect, it's arbitrary. That's what I have to say about minimum sentences. That's what I've said before. That's what others will say again.
If the government wishes to proceed with minimum sentences and wishes to sell minimum sentences as mechanisms to deter crime and keep us safe, there's a thing in criminal law called “onus”. The party moving for a proposition should prove that it's true, should justify it with evidence, not rhetoric.
I would urge this committee to look for evidence and try to find evidence of the effectiveness of minimum sentences. I'd suggest that evidence has not been found in the last eight years, is not going to be found in my brief time here, and if you look hard, I don't think you're going to find it all.
I'll leave it at that. I have more to say.