In April 2022, the Black Legal Action Centre (BLAC), the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies (CAEFS), and the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) provided a submission to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. This submission addressed Bill C-5, An Act to Amend the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

Bill C-5 would amend the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act in three key ways. First, it would get rid of certain mandatory minimum sentences. Second, it would allow for the greater use of conditional sentences, which are similar to house arrest. Third, it would suggest that police consider alternatives to criminal charges for people accused of simple drug possession.

As outlined in the submission, BLAC, CAEFS, and LEAF saw Bill C-5 as an important first step to combating systemic discrimination in Canada’s criminal justice system. However, several amendments were needed to fully realize the government’s stated commitments to racial justice and reconciliation. The changes BLAC, CAEFS, and LEAF proposed aligned with the government’s goals for Bill C-5, its commitment to reconciliation and implementing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Action, and its long-standing efforts to champion gender equality. 

BLAC, CAEFS, and LEAF urged Parliament to amend Bill C-5 so that it would: 

  1. Remove all mandatory minimums, or at least all those that have been found to be unconstitutional 
  1. Remove the ban on conditional sentences for offences with a mandatory minimum penalty 
  1. Fulfill the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Call to Action 32, and allow trial judges, upon giving reasons, to depart from mandatory minimum sentences and restrictions on the use of conditional sentences 
  1. Amend s. 718.2(e) of the Criminal Code so that sentencing judges will have the information required to pass appropriate sentences on Black defendants 
  1. Fully decriminalize simple drug possession, and provide for the automatic expungement of criminal records for simple drug possession 

BLAC, CAEFS, and LEAF supported the call to send Bill C-5 to committee prior to the vote on second reading, to enable the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights to add these provisions to the Bill.

Read the full submission or a summary of the submission (also available in French).