Defence lawyers in Yellowknife are challenging mandatory minimum sentences for firearms charges, saying the sentences violate their client's charter rights.
The minimum sentence for recklessly discharging a firearm is four years in prison, but the lawyers argued Wednesday that amount of jail time in many cases amounts to "cruel and unusual punishment," which is unlawful under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
In the N.W.T. Supreme Court Wednesday, the lawyers argued that "reckless" is a very broad term, and that lengthy jail sentences are not appropriate in cases where the accused had no intention of harming others.
One of the cases involves 29-year-old Corey Robert Cardinal, who pleaded guilty to discharging a firearm in a reckless manner in Inuvik last year after trying to shoot himself while intoxicated.
A friend knocked the gun away just as it fired, sending the bullet through an open doorway in an apartment building. Cardinal was charged because the bullet endangered other people in the building.
Defence lawyer Kate Oja argued there is no value in a highly deterrent sentence in suicide cases, saying that four or more years would be "disproportionate" to the seriousness of the crime. She believes her client needs a shorter conditional sentence, counselling and other rehabilitative services instead.
The Crown prosecutor countered that mental illness does not absolve people of any responsibility for their actions. The prosecutor argued that while the punishment is harsh, the risk posed to other people is serious enough to warrant it.
According to the Crown, the mandatory minimum is meant to send a message about the severity of the risk posed to others in these cases, which is why the term "reckless" covers a broad range of circumstances.
Justice Louise A. Charbonneau has reserved her decision.
Mandatory minimum sentences were introduced in 2008. They quickly came under fire from many in the justice community, including the Canadian Bar Association, for reducing the flexibility judges have to tailor sentences to the circumstances of each crime and offender.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has tasked Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould with reviewing many aspects of the Conservative government's tough-on-crime agenda, including mandatory minimum sentences.