Pubdate: Mon, 07 Sep 2009
Source: Nunavut News North (CN NU)
Copyright: 2009 Northern News Services Limited
Author: Gabriel Zarate
Bookmark: (Incarceration)
Bookmark: (Mandatory Minimum Sentencing)


IQALUIT - Maliiganik Tukisiiniakvik lawyer Scott Wheildon says 
potential changes to Canada's laws would force judges to hand down 
longer sentences, stressing Nunavut's already overcrowded justice system.

"Year after year, we have over 6,000 charges being laid in this 
territory," said Wheildon. That's the number of charges per year, not 
the number of people charged, he noted.

The Baffin Correctional Centre in Iqaluit has an official capacity of 
65 beds but often houses more than 90 prisoners. The Ilavut 
Correctional Healing Centre in Kugluktuk can house up to 12 in a 
minimum-security environment. The tentatively-named Rankin Inlet 
Healing Facility will have room for 46 prisoners and is scheduled to 
open in 2011, according to Nunavut's assistant deputy attorney 
general Doug Garson.

One of the bills the Senate is looking at is C-25, which would limit 
the extra credit people commonly receive for time spent in custody 
before trial. When they hand down sentences, judges often give double 
or time-and-a-half credit for pre-trial custody, or "remand." For 
example, someone who was in remand for three months waiting for trial 
may have six months taken off their sentence.

The C-25 bill would make time-and-a-half the maximum remand credit, 
and would limit the credit to one-for-one in most cases.

Doug Strader, manager of corrections, said usually more than half of 
the people in custody are on remand rather than serving sentences. 
This is true nationwide, not just in Nunavut, he said.

Across Canada and Nunavut, the proportion of people in custody who 
are on remand versus serving sentences has been increasing for years. 
Garson said it's not clear why that's happening.

Garson said one of the reasons he had heard from the south for the 
C-25 bill was that it would stop people from drawing out the wait for 
their trials so they can shave time off their sentences.

Another bill, C-15, would revise the Controlled Drugs and Substances 
Act. Among other things, it would establish mandatory minimum 
sentences for several drug offences including those for marijuana 
smuggling and trafficking, both of which are frequent in Nunavut.

C-15 would mandate minimum sentences of a year to two years under 
certain conditions, such as dealing drugs near a school, for example.

Wheildon is concerned mandatory minimum jail sentences would restrict 
judges' options in sentencing.

"They take away the discretion of judges to put in an appropriate 
sentence in each case," he said. "In my mind, the trial judge is the 
appropriate person to assign a sentence, not the legislature."

Judges wouldn't be able to assign house arrests or conditional 
sentences in such cases, he said, leaving them no alternative but to 
send offenders into an already overcrowded penal system.

Nunavut's correctional system is chronically overcrowded and 
prisoners are sometimes temporarily housed in RCMP holding cells 
which aren't designed to hold people for more than a day or two.

Wheildon said the conditions in the RCMP cells don't meet the minimum 
basic standards of the treatment of prisoners required under Canadian 
and international law.

Garson said C-15 would not only stress Nunavut's correctional system.

"Certainly, adding new mandatory minimum penalties for certain 
offences can lead to more offenders being incarcerated and that could 
potentially lead to an increased strain on our correctional 
facilities," he said. "But it should be noted that this is an issue 
that we'll be confronting, all provinces and territories as a result 
of the new legislation coming into force."

There are nearly a hundred Nunavummiut in custody outside Nunavut, in 
Ontario and the NWT.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom