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Appeals take aim at mandatory minimum sentencing provisions

TORONTO — Gun violence in Toronto is what prompted Ottawa to bring in stiffer mandatory minimum sentences and those penalties must not be overturned as “the plague of handguns” continues, Ontario’s Appeal Court heard Tuesday.

The province’s highest court is hearing six gun-crime cases jointly this week as all of the appeals centre on controversial mandatory minimums. A provincial Crown attorney was the first to make arguments before the special five-judge panel in a courtroom packed with two dozen lawyers.

Arguments will likely focus on the three-year mandatory minimum sentence for possession of a loaded illegal gun. The law was enacted in 2008 as part of the federal Conservatives’ omnibus crime bill, but was first proposed in response to a spate of gun violence in Toronto in 2005.

It was dubbed “the year of the gun,” but no gun death galvanized politicians as much as the death of 15-year-old Jane Creba. The teen was in a crowd teeming with downtown Boxing Day shoppers when she was hit with a bullet as a gunfight suddenly broke out between two rival groups.

Such shootings were a “threatening of Canadian values by a new gun culture and gun lawlessness,” Crown Attorney Riun Shandler told the Appeal Court.

“The plague of handguns in this city continues,” he said, pointing to a shooting at a community barbecue this past summer that saw two bystander partygoers hit and killed.

The Appeal Court hearings also come days after a 15-year-old was shot and killed, making him the fourth minor to die in gunfire in the Toronto area this year.

“Parliament stiffened the penalty so that people...know they have a choice to exercise and that choice is not to possess a loaded handgun in a public place,” Shandler said. “Nothing good can come of possession of a loaded illegal gun.”

The federal government is intervening in the case and says in court documents filed before the hearings that Parliament is entitled to deference in how it tries to enhance public safety.

The case of Leroy Smickle is expected to be central in the week’s arguments. He was caught alone in his boxers in his cousin’s apartment posing with a loaded handgun while taking pictures of himself to post on Facebook.

The judge in his case ruled that sending him to prison for three years would be cruel and unusual punishment and she struck down the law as unconstitutional.

Both the federal and provincial governments are arguing strenuously against that finding.

 
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