Quebec lawyers to contest mandatory minimum sentences

The Quebec Bar Association has announced its plan to contest the constitutionality of minimum sentencing in the Conservative government's omnibus crime legislation.

Motion filed with Quebec Superior Court over omnibus crime bill's provisions

The Quebec Bar Association has announced its plan to contest the Conservative government's omnibus crime legislation in Quebec Superior Court. Bill C-10 hasn't been received well in the province since it passed a vote in the House of Commons in March. (Paul Daly/The Canadian Press)

The Quebec Bar Association has announced its plan to contest the constitutionality of minimum sentencing in the Conservative government's omnibus crime legislation.

The controversial Bill C-10, the Safe Streets and Communities Act, was passed last March in the House of Commons and lays out tougher jail sentences and mandatory minimum sentencing.

The bar association, which represents over 24,000 lawyers in the province, filed its motion with the Quebec Superior Court on Tuesday, asking it to rule on the constitutionality of the specific sections of the law that deal with mandatory minimum sentences.

The bill has not been well received in Quebec, and the association says mandatory sentences do not help to protect citizens.

Quebec's former justice minister and interim leader of the Liberal Party, Jean Marc Fournier, is a staunch opponent of the legislation. He came back from Ottawa empty-handed last week after going there to seek amendments to the law.

Fournier had said in the past as justice minister that the legislation would end up causing more crime and that Quebec would refuse to absorb any associated costs.

Julius Grey, a constitutional lawyer from Montreal, told CBC News he supported the Quebec bar's motion, and thought the challenge would eventually be heard before the Supreme Court within the next year of two. 

"This government has a major philosophical problem with criminal law," Grey said. "It's extremely dangerous, this increasing of sentences and creation of new offences in the face of all evidence that crime is down, and nothing is needed for public safety." 

The act specifically requires heavier sentences for drug trafficking and the sexual assault of children. It also includes longer periods of incarceration for young offenders.

Grey said that decisions over sentencing should be left up to the judge at trial and not the government.

"Just as you have no reason to fear an epidemic of crime, you really have no fear of a judicial discretion, especially in a country like Canada."