The Harper government is currently trying to pass Bill S-10 also known as the Penalties for Organized Crime Act which would make amendments to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. With Bill S-10 the Conservatives want to impose a minimum sentence of six months up to two years on certain crimes which currently have no minimum sentence when certain ‘aggravating’ factors apply. The bill is being met with a lot of opposition, and for good reason. That’s because minimum sentencing bills such as these don’t work or make much sense. They don’t make legal sense because they don’t act as the deterrents that they’re suppose to be, and they don’t make fiscal sense because they end up costing taxpayers millions of dollars with no visible benefit to show for it.
Why the bill doesn’t make much legal sense
The bill which the Harper government is trying to implement is neither novel nor unique. In fact critics of the bill argue that this kind of legislation has been implemented elsewhere and failed. One such group is comprised of more than 500 health care professionals who have written a letter to Ottawa opposing the bill. In the letter, the health care professionals explain how such legislation is ineffective as proven in US research where “several states in the US, such as New York, Michigan, Massachusetts and Connecticut, are now repealing and moving away from costly and ineffective mandatory minimum sentencing legislation…” The letter goes on to point out that rather than helping society, previous research on minimum sentence bills shows that such legislation is actually harmful to society, especially to youth and aboriginal persons who are disproportionately targeted by bill.
In fact our own Department of Justice has a report called “Mandatory Minimum Penalties: Their Effects on Crime, Sentencing Disparities, and Justice System Expenditures” where under the section of mandatory offences for drug offences the report concludes that “MMS do not appear to influence drug consumption or drug-related crime in any measurable way. A variety of research methods concludes that treatment-based approaches are more cost effective than lengthy prison terms.” The report cites many research studies conducted internationally which all show the ineffectiveness of mandatory minimum sentencing as they end up imprisoning low level drug dealers who are non-violent and easily replaceable by the drug gangs, while the hardcore drug dealers don’t feel the effects of the legislation as they often use information they have related to other crimes as leverage for plea bargaining.
Why the bill doesn’t make economic sense
The view in the Department of Justice report is being echoed by most critics of the bill, including a coalition of churches known as The Church Council on Justice and Corrections. In a letter to Harper, the president of the CCJC, Laurent Champagne wrote: “Your policy is applying a costly prison response to people involved in the courts who are non-violent offenders, or to repeat offenders who are mentally ill and/or addicted, the majority of whom are not classified as high risk.” On their website the CCJC has a “prison facts” page which claims the annual average cost of keeping an inmate incarcerated in a federal prison in 2008/09 to be $101666. Many critics predict that the bill will have a large increase the number of inmates in our prison system, where the NDP estimate that the bill will increase the number of inmates in our federal and provincial prisons by 4000. Although the Harper government refuses to tell the public the cost of bill by claiming cabinet confidentiality, the government’s actions speaks loud enough to overcome its silence. The commissioner for Correctional Service Canada, Don Head has mentioned that his department plans to hire 5000 new employees in light of the bill.
The bill has received a lot of political opposition from the NDP as well as Liberals, where Liberal MP Mark Holland explains that the bill fails to distinguish between a college student who’s growing six marijuana plants and the Hells Angels growing over 200. “This mandatory minimum makes it blind to that. This is going to absolutely pack our prisons with young people making small errors. It’s going to bankrupt us.” Looking at the bill itself we find that Bill S-10 is modeled similarly to many of the mandatory minimum sentence legislation that’s found in the US, which ironically enough are being repealed because of their cost and ineffectiveness. The evidence and opposition is quite clear, such a Bill not only hurts small vulnerable offenders who are much better off with other correctional solutions, but it also hurts taxpayers in costing them a lot of money for no benefit. Unfortunately in the midst of all the evidence to the contrary, the Harper government seems set on being ‘tough on crime’ and even tougher on the taxpayers.
 Supra note 6.
 Supra note 1.