Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Wrong appeal

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Manitoba's prosecutions department is fighting two recent court decisions that found the Harper government's mandatory minimum sentences on gun crimes offended charter rights and imposed lighter sentences than prescribed by law. The better appeal would be to argue the penalty should fit the circumstances of the crime, not a hard rule on sentencing.

The cases involve guns: a bullied Carberry man given a year in jail, with probation, for shooting at a house he thought was empty; in Winnipeg, a mentally impaired man was given six months time served with probation for possessing a prohibited firearm. Both judges declared the minimum sentences were cruel, failing to allow for circumstances that mitigate blameworthiness of the offenders.

The problem with mandatory sentences is there is zero latitude for judges dealing with extraordinary circumstances, and they assume everyone who comes before a judge convicted of a crime meets a raised minimum threshold of culpability. Other judges across Canada have bristled at the premise and refused to apply the minimums, so the Supreme Court may have the final say.

The Crown in the Winnipeg case wanted two years above the minimum three-year term, due to the offender's long history of crime. It should argue that case to the Appeal Court rather than attempting to defend a flawed law that is blind to exceptions.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Gerald Flood, Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 25, 2013 A12

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