09/19/2012 05:11 EDT | Updated 11/19/2012 05:12 EST

Tories appeal court ruling that overturned reverse onus for dangerous offenders

OTTAWA - The Conservative government will appeal an Ontario court ruling that declared part of its tough-on-crime agenda unconstitutional.

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson says he will vigorously defend the handling of dangerous offenders — up to the Supreme Court of Canada, if necessary

Earlier this week, an Ontario Superior Court judge struck down a section of the Criminal Code that puts the onus on repeat violent offenders to prove why they shouldn't be locked up indefinitely.

In 2008 the Conservative government reversed the burden of proof from the Crown to offenders who have had three previous convictions for violent offences.

A dangerous offender can receive an indeterminate sentence and be locked up for life.

Ontario Superior Court Judge Alan Bryant agreed with a defence lawyer's argument that the new burden of proof was too onerous on offenders.

"Provincial attorneys general asked for this legislation, victims and law-abiding Canadians supported it, and even the chronically soft-on-crime opposition parties voted for it," Nicholson replied in a statement Wednesday.

"This government will not rest when it comes to strengthening our justice system and standing up for the rights of victims."

The reverse onus for dangerous offenders was part of the government's 2008 Tackling Violent Crime bill, which increased penalties in a number of areas, including gun offences, drunk driving and the age of consent.

In July, an Ontario Court judge struck down a three-year mandatory minimum sentence for firearms trafficking in the case of a crack dealer who offered to sell an undercover police officer a gun.

In February, Ontario Superior Court Judge Anne Molloy struck down a three-year minimum sentence for a first-time offence of illegally possessing a loaded gun.

The cases are expected to be appealed to higher courts.

The Ontario government has already indicated it will appeal the Molloy decision.