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British Columbia judge strikes down minimum sentence for firearm possession

A judge for the Provincial Court of British Columbia [official website] on Friday ruled that the federal government's mandatory-minimum sentence for the possession of a loaded and prohibited firearm is arbitrary and fundamentally unjust. Judge James Bahen ruled [CBC report] in the case of Glenn Harley Tetsuji Sheck, a 29-year-old male with no prior criminal record who was arrested by police and found with a loaded Glock 9-millimeter semi-automatic handgun outside a Surrey restaurant in November 2010. The Canadian Criminal Code stipulates [§ 95(1)] that any party found guilty of possessing a loaded handgun shall be sentenced to a minimum imprisonment of three years. Sheck's defense lawyer argued that the mandatory sentence amounted to cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms [text], and Bahen agreed [Globe and Mail report].

In the previous two years the Ontario Superior Court has handed down separate rulings, R. v. Smickle and R. v. Nur [opinions], in which similar sentences were upheld [JURIST report]. Such cases present a significant challenge to Canada's current mandatory minimum sentence requirements. According to a spokesman for British Columbia's criminal justice branch, the Canadian Crown [official website] will be reviewing the decision to assess the appropriate next steps. Under section 1 of the Charter, the Crown may allow laws which restrict Charter rights as long as they can be "demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society."

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