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More than sunny ways needed to address mandatory minimums

Sunny ways. This is the promise of Justin Trudeau and his newly elected Liberal government. If there is one dark vestige of the Conservative government that could benefit from the light it is criminal justice policy.
Over the last 10 years, our Criminal Code has been radically altered. The changes did not happen all at once but slowly as evidence-based police gave way to partisan ideology. The death was one of a thousand cuts.

The Conservatives were wicked smart in implementing their crime agenda. Major legislative changes were buried in massive omnibus bills. Small but problematic amendments were hurried through Parliament and shielded from constitutional scrutiny in private members bills, and the parliamentary review process was gamed to suppress evidence that contradicted the government’s agenda.

We are living with the sad results: overcrowded jails, massive costs, reduced public safety, and law after law ruled to be unconstitutional.

And there is no better example of the Conservatives’ disdain for evidence-based criminal justice policy than mandatory minimum sentences.

The Harper government promoted mandatory minimum sentences as a tough-on-crime elixir. However, the reality is that mandatory minimum sentences are simply poor policy. They are not supported by the evidence. They do not make communities safer. They do not deter the commission of offences. They impede rehabilitation. They are costly. They are simply unjust.

Proponents of mandatory sentences say minimum sentences deter crime and make communities safer.

Let’s look at what the evidence does tell us: Minimum sentences and harsh incarceration aren’t effective at reducing crime, and they do little to assist with rehabilitation.

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