Monday, February 13, 2006

On allowing for exceptions

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association suggests a more flexible alternative to strict minimum sentences:
Canada's premier civil liberties group is urging Justice Minister Vic Toews to reconsider plans to expand the use of mandatory minimum sentences, calling them "dangerously simplistic" solutions bound to produce "grave injustice."

(I)n its letter, the association urges Toews to consider instead "presumptive" minimum sentences, now in use in Britain. Under such an option, judges would be expected to impose a prescribed minimum punishment, but would retain the power to deviate from the minimum in exceptional circumstances.
It's difficult to see how there could be much of an argument against the CCLA's proposal on principle. But unfortunately, it looks like politics will easily trump policy when it comes time for the House of Commons to make its choices on the issue.

After all, there's little reason to think that Toews will be swayed by the harsh consequences which result from mandatory minimums. And in light of the consensus that formed around strict minimums in the past election, any opposition party which takes up the CCLA's call is bound to face calls of being soft on crime.

As a result, we're all too likely headed toward mandatory minimums for at least a few more criminal offences. And it'll probably take a fresh example of a minimum-sentencing regime in action, rather than a hypothetical application to past events, to change both public opinion and party lines on the issue.

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