National Newswatch

VANCOUVER — The former Conservative government's tough-on-crime agenda has suffered another blow as British Columbia's highest court strikes down two more mandatory-minimum sentencing laws, ruling them unconstitutional.

On Monday, the B.C. Court of Appeal overturned compulsory two-year minimum sentences for drug trafficking convictions that involve someone under the age of 18 or that occur in a public place frequented by youth.

A unanimous decision from the three-person panel says a minimum sentence of two years in such instances may be at times "grossly disproportionate" to the crime committed, and therefore amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

This week's ruling is the latest in several cases where courts have overturned mandatory-minimum sentences that are the legacy of the former Conservative government.

A Supreme Court of Canada decision earlier this month put an end to minimum sentences for specific drug crime convictions and limits on pre-trial credit in certain conditions where bail is denied.

Last year, the high court upheld a decision from the Ontario Court of Appeal, which ruled that minimum sentences for some gun crimes constitute cruel and unusual punishment because they risk ensnaring people with "little or no moral fault" and who pose "little or no danger to the public."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responded after the most recent high court decision saying that his government was reviewing the laws around such sentences.

The Justice Department did not provide a comment about the latest decision. The public prosecution service has 60 days to file leave to appeal.

The federal government must now step up and reform the laws around mandatory-minimum sentences, said Darcie Bennett, interim executive director for Pivot Legal Society.

The legal advocacy organization was an intervener in two of the three cases referenced in this week's B.C. Court of Appeal ruling.

"Legislative reform would be the cheapest, fastest, most effective way to deal with this issue, and to deal with the issue not on simply a provision-by-provision basis," she said.

Reforming the system isn't about being soft on crime, but about allowing judges the discretion to craft sentences depending on the circumstances, she added.

David Fai, a defence lawyer in one of the three cases, said he believes the court is sending a clear message.

His client, Chad Dickey, was arrested in 2013 while selling cocaine to an undercover police officer near a gymnastics club in Quesnel, B.C.

Noting his considerable rehabilitation following his arrest, the B.C. Supreme Court judge sentenced Dickey to 20 months probation.

The other cases addressed in the decision stemmed from so-called dial-a-dope cocaine arrests in 2013.

Police arrested Marco Trasolini in Burnaby and Cody Bradley-Luscombe in Duncan on Vancouver Island. Both were sentenced to eight months in jail.

The Crown appealed all three decisions, calling them unfit, but the argument was rejected by the appeal court.

"It would be nice to put an end to these things," said Fai, who successfully argued for the Supreme Court of Canada to overturn two other mandatory-minimum laws.

"The public expense in taking these cases to appellate courts, it's not cheap."

Parliament could pass a law rescinding the previous government's legislation around mandatory minimum sentences, said Fai, though he noted the dilemma of a government not wanting to appear soft on crime.

When appointed attorney general, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould was given a mandate letter directing her to quickly intervene in court cases where the former government's position is contrary to the Liberal platform.

"They may just prefer to have the courts rule on these things so they can stand on the sidelines," Fai said.

— Follow @gwomand on Twitter

Geordon Omand, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said the court overturned the sentences.

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