The Canadian government’s Omnibus Crime Bill has passed third reading in the House and has moved onto the Senate for its rubber stamp approval. One of the more disturbing elements of the Bill is the provision for mandatory minimum sentences to be meted out to cannabis users and growers; sentences which are longer in some cases than those given to child rapists.
Mandatory minimum sentences have the effect of rendering a judge impotent in his furnishing a sentence fitting to the crime and its circumstances. With mandatory minimums in place a judge can basically only pass judgment on whether or not a person is guilty or innocent. The punishment for many will be prescribed by law regardless of any mitigating circumstances which legislators cannot be privy to. They have determined that regardless of circumstance a criminal must serve a certain amount of time for a certain crime.
These mandatory minimums are a reaction to past lenient sentences handed out be liberal judges to hardened criminals. On that face of it alone one could somewhat agree with the reaction. But that is only one facet of the problem. The particular offences our government has chosen to apply mandatory minimums to are non-violent offences such as growing, or possessing a plant, cannabis.
As offensive as these changes are to our criminal justice system it could be much worse. Marc Emery, the Prince of Pot, a Canadian citizen turned over by the Canadian government to a foreign power, the United States, for selling cannabis seeds by mail to Americans, a crime punishable by a fine in this country, is serving five years in an American prison for his actions. From his prison cell in the Yazoo City Correctional Institution in Mississippi Marc has posted to his blog several examples of outrageously excessive sentences given to some prison-mates, most of whom, like Marc, are in jail for non-violent drug related offences.
Christopher Norman – sentenced to 21 years, 10 months for conspiracy to distribute five kilograms of cocaine.
First time offender, Jacob Esquibel – 21 years, 3 months for ‘Possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine.’
Travis Rogers – 21 years for conspiracy to distribute 500+ grams of methamphetamine.
Antonio Andrews – 48 years – Convicted of being a felon in possession of firearms. The guns were not used in any way and no one was harmed.
Cedric Jones – Conspiracy to possess and distribute crack cocaine. – Mandatory life sentence. No drugs were ever found on his person nor were any amount specified in his indictment.
Nathan Carter – Possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine – Life without parole.
Bryan Jones – Conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine – sentenced to life without parole PLUS FIVE YEARS!
Billy Wheelock – life without parole for possession of 99.64 grams of crack cocaine.
Curtis Bell – Conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine – Life without parole.
Marc concludes his blog post with this warning:
“In Canada, the cruel mandatory minimums for cannabis and drugs soon coming into law will be augmented by the on-going appointment of Conservative judges to the courts. This situation will produce much longer and harsher sentences, fill the jails, increase the debt, expand police powers, reduce the safety and freedom of the citizens, escalate the drug war, raise drug prices, increase the lucrative nature of the drug trade, and drain the taxpayers.”
One further and chilling example of an excessive punishment is the case of twelve year old Cristian Fernandez of Jacksonville, Florida.
This young boy, just into puberty, pushed his toddler brother. The two and a half year old suffered a head injury which was ignored by his mother who only reported the injury after several hours. The boy died two days later but doctors claim that he could have been saved had the mother acted quicker instead of taking time to download music on her computer.
While the mother is being tried for her negligence what is tragic is that young Cristian is being tried as an adult for murder. If he is found guilty the mandatory sentence is life with no chance of parole for 75 years. Did I mention that Cristian is only 12 years old?
My reaction to these sentences is in no way a comment on the serious nature of some of the crimes, nor on the fact that some of these people deserve to be punished for their crimes. My reaction is strictly to the excessive and barbaric treatment these individuals are experiencing.
We often pass proper moral judgment on the behaviour of the governments of uncivilized countries like Iran, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, or North Korea. The stonings, beheadings, public amputations, and torture that so-called “criminals” receive in these countries go beyond the pale. But given the current trend in Canada and the United States to increase sentencing for non-violent crimes and putting 12 year old children in jail for life we are not far behind these medieval countries and catching up.