The Supreme Court of Canada’s conclusion that the Truth in Sentencing Act is unconstitutional is challenging to explain. In part this is because of the rhetorical flourish of the legislation. Who can oppose Truth, especially with a capital T? But mainly it is because most of us know very little about our criminal justice system and about our prisons.
The Canadian Criminal Code is written, like much criminal law around the world, with a series of ‘theoretical maximum’ penalties. Parliament sets out what the maximum possible sentence can be. The courts then apply the law.
Applying the law can be complicated. Every crime is comprised of a particular kind of knowledge, specific actions, potential consequences. Evidence needs to be carefully weighed. Criminal conviction is the most serious penalty that our society condones. It can, and should, be complicated. It’s serious.
Sentencing is even more intricate. The judge considers the individual circumstances of the crime against the theoretical maximum of the Criminal Code.… Continue reading