The CCLA welcomes the Supreme Court of Canada’s decisions in R v. Hills and R. v. Hilbach, both of which consider the constitutionality of mandatory minimum sentences. The mandatory minimum at issue in Hills was struck down as a violation of section 12 of the Charter, while a majority of the Court upheld the mandatory minimum sentences that were at issue in Hilbach. Although not relevant to the Court’s decisions, it is worth noting that the mandatory minimum sentences at issue in both of these cases have been repealed by Parliament.
When these cases were before the Alberta Court of Appeal, that Court proposed to overhaul the prevailing approach to mandatory minimums, essentially eliminating the principle of proportionality as a guiding principle in sentencing and relegating it to simply one among many factors to be considered. The Alberta Court of Appeal rejected the idea that the Charter’s constitutional protection against cruel and unusual treatment or punishment (enshrined in section 12) should serve as a constitutional check on sentences that are grossly disproportionate. In its intervention on these appeals, the CCLA argued strongly that section 12 serves as an important check on grossly disproportionate sentences and is anchored in respect for human dignity. Fortunately, the Court has maintained its approach to mandatory minimums and reaffirmed the role of section 12 in guarding against grossly disproportionate sentences. Indeed, the Court explicitly agreed with CCLA’s position, citing our factum in its decision in Hills, which stated that a “person who has been found guilty of a crime is not simply a canvas on which to paint society’s condemnation, but remains a human being and a rights-holder endowed with human dignity and legal rights.” (R v Hills, 2023 SCC 2, para 142).
The CCLA is grateful to Nader Hasan and Ryann Atkins of Stockwoods LLP for their excellent pro bono representation in these appeals.
The CCLA’s factum in Hills is available here, and the decision can be accessed here.
The CCLA’s factum in Hilbach is available here, and the decision can be accessed here.
About the Canadian Civil Liberties Association
The CCLA is an independent, non-profit organization with supporters from across the country. Founded in 1964, the CCLA is a national human rights organization committed to defending the rights, dignity, safety, and freedoms of all people in Canada.
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