On February 20, 2018, Superior Court Justice Casey Hill struck down a mandatory minimum in a case involving an Indigenous woman charged with transporting drugs into Canada.
Cheyenne Sharma plead guilty to importing cocaine into Canada from Trinidad in 2015. She had no previous criminal record. Sharma, a single mother, said she agreed to transport the cocaine because she was behind on her rent payments and was facing eviction. The mandatory minimum for the import of drugs is two years.
In his ruling, Justice Hill described the mandatory minimum as “a grossly disproportionate punishment” as well as a form of “cruel and unusual punishment.” He said the circumstances of Sharma’s life, which include sexual violence, homelessness and addiction, provided important context in arriving at an appropriate sentence.
Justice Hill noted that Sharma had undertaken efforts to rehabilitate herself and continue her education. Justice Hill sentenced her to 17 months in prison and recommended that she be approved for the temporary absence program (which allows inmates to leave prison for a variety of personal, professional and rehabilitative reasons) prior to her parole. The Public Prosecution Office has thirty days to decide whether it will appeal the ruling.
Justice Hill also summarized findings from an expert witness in the case who described Canada’s history of colonialism and cultural genocide towards First Nations peoples and the disproportional representation of Indigenous peoples in Canada’s criminal justice system. He also referenced the imperative of Canadian courts to participate in the process of reconciliation and in “nation to nation” dialogue with Indigenous peoples by considering the legacy of colonialism and intergenerational trauma in sentencing deliberations.
Speaking to the Toronto Star, Aboriginal Legal Services and intervenor in Sharma’s trial, Jonathan Rudin, called upon the federal government act upon the recommendation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to repeal laws which unfairly target Indigenous peoples in the criminal justice system:
“This really calls out, again, for the federal government to do what they said they were going to do. That’s the only way we’re going to get some coherence into the criminal justice system.”
In an email to the Globe and Mail, Minister of Justice Jody Wilson-Raybould said the ministry was conducting a review of changes to the criminal justice system as it pertains to mandatory minimums.
This blog post was written by a CCLA-PBSC RightsWatch student. Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCLA or PBSC.