Mandatory minimums ruling adds to Ottawa's legal losing streak

The Supreme Court of Canada ruling against the Harper government's law requiring mandatory minimum sentences for crimes involving prohibited guns isn't the only court case the Conservatives have lost recently.

Supreme Court ruling against mandatory minimum sentences for gun crimes another loss for Conservatives

A woman looks at a portrait of justices in the foyer of the Supreme Court building in Ottawa. The Conservative government has been handed a series of legislative setbacks by the court and lower courts. (Reuters)

The Conservative government is once again on the losing end of a major court case regarding its laws, this time regarding legislation requiring mandatory minimum sentences for crimes involving prohibited guns.

The government won a recent Supreme Court case to force the Quebec government to destroy its long-gun registry records, and the court declined to hear a challenge by farmers related to the closure of the Canadian Wheat Board, but those were lonely victories amid a series of failures at various courts in Canada.

Two other recent losses feature cases that started under previous governments: one which struck down certain powers of FINTRAC, (the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada); and another which gave RCMP members the right to collective bargaining.‎

Here's a look at some of the setbacks:

February 2015: Assisted death for those who choose it

Lee Carter and her husband, Hollis Johnson, react to the Supreme Court unanimously striking down the ban on providing a doctor-assisted death to mentally competent but suffering and 'irremediable' patients. Carter and Johnson accompanied Carter's 89-year-old mother Kathleen (Kay), who suffered from spinal stenosis, to Switzerland in 2010, to end her life. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)
Canada's highest court ruled unanimously last winter that people with grievous and irremediable medical conditions should have the right to ask a doctor to help them die. The Supreme Court of Canada said a law that makes it illegal for anyone to help people end their own lives should be amended to allow doctors to help in specific situations. The ruling only applies to competent adults with enduring, intolerable suffering who clearly consent to ending their lives. 

The court gave federal and provincial governments 12 months to craft legislation to respond to the ruling; the ban on doctor-assisted suicide stands until then. If the government doesn't write a new law, the court's exemption for physicians will stand.

February 2015: Niqabs at citizenship ceremonies

A Federal Court judge ruled the immigration minister can't block women from wearing the niqab as they take the citizenship oath. Judge Keith Boswell wrote that it's inconsistent with the duty given to citizenship judges to allow "the greatest possible freedom in the religious solemnization or solemn affirmation" of a citizenship oath. All that's needed, the judge ruled, is for citizenship applicants to sign a form saying they've taken the oath. The judge declined to comment on the charter aspects of the case because the decision could be made on a non-charter basis.

The federal government is appealing the decision.

December 2014: Appeal on pot-growing injunction

New regulations for medical marijuana came into effect in Canada on April 1, 2014, but licensed home growers continue to be able to produce their own pot pending the outcome of a future trial. (CBC)
The Conservative government lost an attempt to prevent medical marijuana users from growing pot at home, with the Federal Court of Appeal upholding an injunction that exempted patients from a massive overhaul of the system. 

In April 2014, new federal marijuana laws banned all home growing for medical purposes, meaning users would have to buy pot from licensed growers. Lawyers won a temporary injunction allowing patients to continue cultivating their own marijuana until the case is finally decided. In December, the federal government lost an appeal to strike down that injunction.

The challenge to the law got underway in February 2015.

July 2014: Refugee health-care rights upheld

The Federal Court of Canada ruled that cuts to health care for refugee claimants were "cruel and unusual" because they jeopardize their health and shock the conscience of Canadians. Judge Anne Mactavish ruled the federal cabinet has the power to make such changes and that the procedure was fair, but found as a matter of fact that the government was putting refugee claimants' lives at risk.

The government is appealing the ruling to the Federal Court of Appeal and put in place a modified system last November, but refugee advocates challenged that regime last January.

June 2014: Supreme Court upholds privacy rights

The court's ruling that internet service providers must not disclose names, addresses and phone numbers of their customers to law enforcement officials without a warrant is expected to force the government to change bills on cyberbullying (C-13) and digital privacy (S-4) currently before Parliament.

April 2014: Ottawa can't go it alone on Senate reform

Senate reform has been one of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's signature political causes, one that has become all the more urgent against a festering Senate expenses scandal. But the government's attempt to gain some clarity about its powers to change — or failing that, abolish — the Senate ran into a constitutional brick wall. The court ruled that reforms, including term limits or Senate elections, or abolishing the Senate altogether, could only be done with the consent of at least seven provinces representing at least half of the population.

April 2014: Judges have discretion on sentencing

In a unanimous ruling, the high court affirmed that offenders can receive extra credit for time spent in custody before they are sentenced, a blow against the government's Truth in Sentencing Act, which attempted to curb the practice by allowing it only in "exceptional" circumstances. The ruling, which was precedent-setting but did not strike down the law, gave judges the right to apply the extra credit for time served but did not reject the government's limit of a 1.5 credit.

March 2014: Early parole abolition repealed

Another blow to the Conservatives' law-and-order agenda came with the Supreme Court ruling against the retroactive abolition of accelerated parole for offenders who had already been sentenced. That violated the offenders' charter rights, the court ruled in striking down Section 10(1) of the Abolition of Early Parole Act.

March 2014: Marc Nadon rejected by Supreme Court

Supreme Court of Canada nominee Justice Marc Nadon and Justice Minister Peter MacKay are pictured in October 2013. Five months later, the Supreme Court ruled Nadon was ineligible for the appointment. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)
Perhaps the most embarrassing defeat came with the Supreme Court's rejection of Harper's choice to fill a vacant seat on the court. The court ruled that Justice Marc Nadon was not eligible to represent Quebec on the bench because he was appointed from the Federal Court and not a Quebec court or directly from the Quebec bar as dictated by the Constitution and the Supreme Court Act. The government was compelled to seek a ruling from the court after a legal challenge by Toronto lawyer Rocco Galati, who has since challenged another judicial appointment as well as the government's new citizenship bill. The Nadon decision later touched off an unprecedented public exchange of comments between Harper and Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin.

December 2013: Court strikes down prostitution laws

In a landmark unanimous decision, the court struck down Canada's 25-year-old prostitution laws that prohibited brothels, living on the avails of prostitution and communicating in public with clients and gave the government a year to come up with a new law. The government introduced new legislation in June that makes it a crime to buy sex, but not to sell it, unless minors are present.

September 2011: Supervised injection clinic remains open

A landmark ruling from the Supreme Court ordered the federal minister of health to grant a Vancouver supervised injection clinic an exemption under Canada's drug laws so it can remain open. The ruling gave the minister discretion to approve or deny future requests for exemptions, but required the government to balance public safety and charter rights when making the decision.

with files from The Canadian Press