High Court of Canada softens Conservatives’ tough on crime agenda

Canada’s High Court has once again softened Harper government’s tough-on-crime agenda. In a unanimous ruling, the Supreme Court of Canada had affirmed that offenders can receive extra credit for time spent in custody before they are sentenced. The 7-0 ruling is seen as the latest skirmish between the Supreme Court of Canada and the Conservative government, who’s Truth in Sentencing Act placed a cap on the credit an offender could receive for their time in pre-trial custody.

The 2009 law toughened the sentencing provisions for repeat and violent offenders by removing long-held provision of giving offender credit for double the time served. Before the Tory-led legislation, an offender received two days credit for every one day spent in jail before sentencing. The act had reduced the discretion of judges to give an offender credit for their time served in pre-trial custody.  Justice Minister Peter MacKay lambasted the ruling, saying that violent criminals should face hard times for their crimes.

Despite the Tories removal of the provision that gave alleged offender’s credit for pre-trial custody, the law still allowed for a credit of 1.5 times in exceptional circumstances, though the specifics were never defined. “Had Parliament intended to alter the well-established rule that enhanced credit compensates for the loss of eligibility for early release, it would have done so expressly. I conclude that the loss of access to parole and earl release constitutes a circumstance capable of justifying enhanced credit,” said the ruling, written by Justice Andromache Karakatsanis.

For many, this ruling was another point of contention in what many legal pundits see as a seesawing battle between the Supreme Court of Canada and Harper’s Conservative government. Last month, the Supreme Court struck down retroactive changes to parole eligibility – ruling that it was unconstitutional – which the Conservative government had drafted-up and enacted. Edward Prutschi, NewsTalk1010’s Legal Analyst and criminal lawyer and partner at Bytensky Prutschi Shikhman, talks to Jerry Agar about the high court’s decision in upholding the routine granting of enhanced credit for time spent in pre-trial custody.

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