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Copyright (c) 2001 Osgoode Hall Law School
Osgoode Hall Law Journal

ARTICLE: Mandatory Minimum Prison Sentencing and Systemic Racism (c)

(c) 2001, F.R. Mirza.

Summer / Fall, 2001

39 Osgoode Hall L.J. 491


By Faizal R. Mirza *



Mandatory minimum sentences were first proposed in Canada in 1908. In 1917, the first mandatory prison term pertaining to selling insurance without a licence was passed. 2 Currently, in Canada, there are twenty-nine offences in the Criminal Code 3 that carry a mandatory minimum prison sentence. Mandatory prison sentences cover a spectrum of crimes including first- and second-degree murder, aggravated sexual assault, and drunk driving. 4

Since 1995, the bulk of laws passed carrying a mandatory prison sentence have been offences committed with the use of a firearm. Over this same period there have been a large number of private members bills proposing to introduce mandatory prison sentences for a variety of offences. 5 For instance, the "three strikes and you're out" provision (originally adopted in California in 1994, requiring twenty-five years to life prison terms for defendants with convictions for two previous serious offences and any other felony) was recently endorsed by the Canadian Alliance Party as a useful crime-fighting measure. 6 A three strikes bill has been introduced twice in Canada's Parliament: first in 1995, and again in 2000. 7

Mandatory minimum prison sentences alter the criminal justice framework. They drain the control of the judiciary over punishing offenders and bestow quasi-judicial powers on police and prosecutors. This shift in powers contradicts the accepted understanding that in the criminal justice system the police, the Crown, and the judiciary assume distinct, albeit complementary roles. The police are responsible for investigating crimes, arresting, and charging persons ...
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