Photo: The Canadian Press
Yves Giroux, Parliamentary Budget Officer, waits to appear before the House of Commons Finance Committee on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday, March 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
An investigation by the Parliamentary Budget Officer has found that a certain mandatory minimum sentence costs a total of $98 million per year.
Budget official Yves Giroux’s report focused on charges related to the minimum three-year sentence for possession of a prohibited firearm containing ammunition, which has been in effect since 2008.
People convicted of this crime will be sentenced to a total of 1,162 years more in federal custody than before the current minimum was in effect, the report said.
Giroux’s office said this translates to about 684 more people in federal custody and 467 more people on federal parole at any time.
Mandatory minimum sentences require judges to impose a minimum sentence on those convicted of a specific crime.
His office said it based its calculations on the Correctional Service of Canada’s weighted average cost of holding a delinquent in custody and on parole.
The effect of this minimum on the overall length of sentences continues, although it was declared unconstitutional by appeals courts in 2013, and later by Canada’s Supreme Court in 2015, the report said. The minimum has not been revoked and therefore remains in the Criminal Code.
Giroux’s office also said this minimum penalty disproportionately affects black and indigenous people.
While black people make up 3.5 percent of Canada’s population, they are responsible for 24 percent of the increase in time spent in federal custody.
Indigenous people make up 2.6 percent of the population, while getting 22 percent of the increase in punishment time.
By comparison, whites make up 73 percent of the population, but get 37 percent of the increase in sentencing.
Giroux’s office notes that it is difficult to draw conclusions about the effect of other minimum sentences, and what effect the withdrawal of a minimum sentence would have on the severity of the sentence.
In December 2021, Justice Minister David Lametti introduced a bill that would repeal certain mandatory minimum sentences for some drug offenses and some gun-related crimes, including the offense mentioned in the Parliamentary Budget Officer’s report.
It would allow a judge to exercise discretion in imposing penalties related to the facts of the case, including considerations of the individual’s experience of systemic racism and whether they pose a risk to public safety.
The repeal of these mandatory minimum sentences is intended to address excessive incarceration of black and indigenous people, the Justice Department says.
The bill is currently on second reading in the House of Commons.