Supreme Court agrees to review ruling upholding restrictions on conditional sentances

Laws that restrict judges from imposing conditional sentences will be reviewed against the Canadian constitution by the Supreme Court. Conditional sentences include restrictions such as house arrest or other alternatives to jail.

The Canadian Press

OTTAWA — The Supreme Court of Canada will examine the constitutionality of a law that prevented a judge from allowing an offender to avoid jail by imposing a conditional sentence for certain crimes.

The top court has agreed to review an Ontario Court of Appeal ruling that found the Criminal Code provisions violated the charter because of their effect on Indigenous offenders.

In 2016, Cheyenne Sharma, a young Indigenous woman, pleaded guilty to importing two kilograms of cocaine in exchange for $20,000 from her boyfriend, a task she carried out to avoid eviction for herself and her daughter.

Sharma successfully challenged a Criminal Code provision that called for a two-year mandatory minimum sentence, and she was ordered to serve 17 months in custody.

However, a judge rejected her constitutional challenge of provisions that disallow a conditional sentence for offences that can entail a stiff prison term.

Sharma contested the decision and the Court of Appeal found the Criminal Code sections violated the charter, saying they discriminated against Indigenous offenders on the basis of race and were overbroad in relation to their purpose.

"The provisions deny Ms. Sharma a benefit in a manner that has the effect of reinforcing, perpetuating and exacerbating her disadvantage as an Aboriginal person," Justice Kathryn Feldman wrote for the Appeal Court.

As usual, the Supreme Court gave no reasons for agreeing to hear the Crown's appeal of the Court of Appeal decision.

No date has been set for the high court hearing, which could take place as early as this year.

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