[JURIST] The Supreme Court of Canada [official website] ruled [judgment] Tuesday that the national law requiring minimum sentences for gun crimes is unconstitutional because it constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. The high court ruled 6-3 to affirm [Toronto Star report] a 2013 ruling on the issue. Section 95 of the Canadian criminal code [government website] outlines the criminal punishment for conviction of possession of a prohibited or restricted firearm with ammunition. Section 95(2) requires a minimum punishment of three years for a first offense and five years for a second or subsequent offense. The provisions in § 95 were enacted in 2008, as part of a broad omnibus bill introduced by federal conservatives. The court reasoned that in most cases a punishment under § 95(2) will not constitute cruel and unusual punishment, but under some reasonably foreseeable circumstances the punishment is unduly strict and there is no real threat to public welfare, such as licensing infractions. Canadian Justice Minister Peter MacKay said the government will review the decision [CP report] to consider potential “next steps towards protecting Canadians from gun crime and ensuring that our laws remain responsive.”
Firearm possession and gun owner’s rights has been at the forefront of the Canadian judiciary in recent months, after the debate over minimum criminal sentences worked its way up the courts in the past few years. In March the Supreme Court of Canada ruled the federal government does not have to relinquish its gun-registry database [JURIST report] to Quebec. The Court’s 5-4 decision affirmed [National Post report] Parliament’s constitutional right over criminal law. In January 2013, a judge for the Provincial Court of British Columbia held [JURIST report] the federal government’s mandatory minimum sentence law for the possession of a loaded and prohibited firearm is arbitrary and fundamentally unjust. In that case, 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 restaurant and he was sentenced to three years. The man’s lawyer successfully argued the punishment was unjust. A year prior, the Ontario Superior Court refused to impose a mandatory minimum sentence [JURIST report] established by the Canadian federal government for firearm possession, declaring the guideline unconstitutional.