Criminal laws are constantly being amended or adapted to fit an ever-evolving society and its needs, and are especially subject to change when a new government takes power. This past year was one of change for Canadian criminal law. Here are some of the laws that have been adapted over the past year, and what those adaptations will mean in the coming year.
Mandatory Minimum Sentences
What was probably the most significant change in Canadian criminal law this past year was the huge increase in mandatory minimum sentences. The government imposed mandatory minimum penalties for the production of illegal drugs where none existed before. People involved in the production of more serious and harmful substances (including heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamines) are subject to mandatory minimum sentences of at least two years of imprisonment.
Impaired driving offences have also carried mandatory minimum penalties for a long time, but in 2015 the government increased those sentences’ severity. The mandatory minimum sentence for a second offence, for example, has gone up from 14 days of imprisonment to 30 days. A third offence (or any higher) now comes with a sentence of at least 120 days of imprisonment. Previously, a third offence had a mandatory minimum of 90 days of imprisonment, which meant judges could allow offenders to serve their sentences on weekends. However, this is no longer possible because the Criminal Code does not permit such intermittent sentences where the penalty is more than 90 days.
Self Defence Provisions
Self-defence is one issue that the Canadian courts have been asking Parliament to address for a long time. The term “self-defence” essentially includes anything involving the defending of one’s self, the “defence of others” and “defence of property.” For many years, the Criminal Code had a number of overlapping and complicated sections that described different tests to use when accused persons used force – and, as a result, sometimes caused death or injury to others – in order to defend themselves or another person. Judges and lawyers alike used to find those provisions difficult to understand and apply, and giving legal direction to jurors was not always straightforward.
Recently the government repealed the old provisions and replaced them with two sections: one to apply where the accused acts to defend themselves or other people, and the other to apply when the accused is defending property. The Criminal Code now establishes a number of factors to consider, including the nature of the threat to the individual and if weapons were involved; any difference in age, size, gender or physical abilities between the parties; the background of any relationship between them; and whether the accused had no other option besides using to force.
As criminal laws change over time in Canada, it is important to stay informed of their evolution, especially for those with a criminal record or seeking a Canadian pardon. With the new government recently taking power, more changes are expected to be seen in 2016.