Mandatory Minimum Sentences are those imposed after a finding of guilt for offences for which the Criminal Code provides that the punishment cannot be less than the minimum specified.

Historically, murder was the only common offence (other examples being treason and piracy) for which the Criminal Code provided a minimum penalty. In the United States, federal offences have until recently been governed by the mandatory minimum sentences enacted by the Ronald Reagan sentencing guidelines.

In light of the unduly harsh and unjust sentences imposed in many cases due to the inability of judges to depart from the sentences prescribed by the guidelines, without exception for particular circumstances, the United States Supreme Court recently ruled that the mandatory sentences were unconstitutional and that they could only be used as guidelines to help judges apply fair and consistent sentences without depriving them of the power to impose sentences which are fair and effective in the circumstances of each particular case.

The Harper government seems to be out of step with the lessons learned from the American experience in that mandatory minimum sentences have been enacted recently for numerous offences and more are scheduled in legislation currently proposed in Parliament.

When the Americans have learned that it does not pay to tie judges’ hands and require them to blindly sentence offenders without regard to particular circumstances why is the Canadian government adopting policies which were attempted and abandoned by our neighbours to the South? Is our society qualitatively different? Are Americans bleeding hearts? Do we know better than them? Or is our government misguidedly pandering to the knee jerk reactions of the uninformed masses in order to curry favour with the voters?