Mandatory minimum sentences (MMS) for criminal and drug offences have been getting a lot of attention lately. The federal government recently conducted a public survey on MMS, causing some commentators to wonder whether the Liberals will make good on their campaign promises to roll back the MMS created by the previous government. The question is timely since Parliament resumes next week. Even StatsCan’s excellent Juristat weighed in last month with a detailed analysis of the effects of MMS.
We noticed that much of this debate was happening without reference to just how many MMS have already been struck down as unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment by the courts. There has been a recent spate of court challenges to MMS, particularly those established within the past 10 years, leading to a massive increase in the number of judgments weighing in on the constitutionality of MMS.
Since we run a sentencing database, we at rangefindr.ca were already keeping track of which MMS have been struck down, which are on shaky constitutional ground, and which have been solidly upheld. We noticed there was no one place people could easily check whether a particular MMS was still in effect. So we decided to create one and put it online at MMS.watch.
We made it free because a) it’s data we already had, and b) it informs an important public debate about the place of MMS in Canadian criminal justice.
To promote the new site, we’ve also released a (slightly cheeky) infographic illustrating the MMS as sailing and sinking ships. It’s also free for non-commercial use.
We hope MMS.watch sparks some conversation about MMS, and acts as a useful awareness tool in the future.