OTTAWA - The Quebec Bar Association has launched a legal challenge against parts of the federal Conservatives' law-and-order agenda.
In a case that could ultimately find itself before the Supreme Court, the association has filed a motion in Quebec Superior Court seeking to strike down sections of Bill C-10.
The targeted sections involve so-called mandatory minimums — penalties that set minimum sentences and leave judges with little latitude if they want to convict someone and proffer a lesser punishment.
The bar association says that not only do mandatory minimums not wind up protecting the public but that they represent an unconstitutional interference from one branch of government, the legislature, in the business of another, the judiciary.
Bill C-10, the Safe Streets and Communities Act, passed earlier this year despite resistance from some provincial governments who called its measures costly, ineffective and a recipe for prison overcrowding.
The omnibus bill sets mandatory minimums for child exploitation and some major drug offences. It stemmed from older bills proposed by the Harper Tories and promised in their 2011 election platform.
The office of Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, responding to the bar association challenge, sent an email Tuesday saying the government firmly believes that mandatory minimums are justified for some infractions.
It says there are 40 cases of mandatory minimums in the Criminal Code and that the recent legislation merely extends an existing practice.
Parts of the Conservative justice agenda have already been struck down in court.
Earlier this year, an Ontario Court ruled that a crack dealer who offered to sell an undercover police officer a gun should not have to face the mandatory minimum sentence of three years for firearms trafficking. The man's lawyer said his client had never had a gun, and never intended to sell one, but was using the gun promise to lure a drug customer.
That Ontario case only dealt with the firearms trafficking provisions from the 2008 Tackling Violent Crime Act, in which offering to sell a gun carries an automatic three-year sentence.
The 2008 bill has suffered several court defeats.
Earlier on HuffPost:
The 9 Key Changes In The Tory Crime Bill
With files from <em>The Canadian Press</em>. (CP/Alamy)
9. Bringing Prisoners Home
Provides the government, through the minister of Public Safety, more discretion to decide if a Canadian imprisoned abroad can transfer home to serve his or her sentence. (Getty)
8. Rights For Terror Victims
Introduces new measures to allow victims of terrorist acts to sue responsible individuals, groups or state sponsors in Canadian courts. (Alamy)
7. Denying Work Permits
Gives the Immigration minister new powers to deny work permits to foreigners based on the rationale they may be exploited. (Alamy)
6. Victims Get More Say In Parole
Provides victims of crime more say in parole decisions under the Corrections and Conditional Release Act. Increases size of parole board by 25 per cent. (Alamy)
5. Fewer Conditional Sentences
Reduces sharply the use of conditional sentences, such as house arrest, for a variety of property and other offences. (Jupiter Images)
4. Pardons Harder To Get
Changes the pardons system and makes certain ex-convicts, such as some sex offenders and repeat offenders, ineligible for life. Essentially doubles the waiting period for pardon eligibility to five years for summary offences and 10 years for indictable offences. Replaces the term "pardon" by "record suspension." (Alamy)
3. Harsher Sentences For Young Offenders
Sets tougher penalties for young offenders, including mandatory consideration of adult sentences and possible publication ban removal for violent crimes. Expands the definition of violent crime to include reckless acts that don't actually cause harm. (Alamy)
2. Mandatory Minimums For Sex Crimes
Establishes new mandatory minimum sentences and longer maximums for sex crimes against minors, including the addition of two new offences related to grooming or luring minors. (Alamy)
1. Mandatory Minimums For Drug Crimes
Provides new mandatory minimum sentences for drug offences related to production and distribution, including mandatory sentences for growing as few as six pot plants. Doubles maximum sentences to 14 years from seven. Offers potential exemptions for those entering drug treatment programs. (Getty)