Court discussing mandatory minimums for gun charges

A Smith & Wesson 9mm

Credits: REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton/Files


TORONTO - Parliament pulled the trigger on mandatory minimum sentences for possessing illegal guns to stem the violence plaguing Toronto, Ontario's highest court heard Tuesday.

Crown attorney Riun Shandler defended the constitutionality of the Harper government's mandatory minimums before a Court of Appeal special panel Tuesday, saying Ottawa stiffened the penalties to combat the terror of gun violence.

Possession of a loaded, restricted or prohibited handgun carries a three-year mandatory minimum prison sentence at the higher Superior Court and a one-year mandatory minimum at the lower provincial court. Repeat offenders face a minimum of five years.

Shandler cited the fatal shooting of Jane Creba on Boxing Day 2005 and last summer's Danzig barbecue gun fight as examples of firearms being used to kill innocent bystanders.

"Nothing good will come out of possessing a loaded, illicit weapon," said the provincial Crown attorney.

"The criminal use of firearms is a plague in the life of Toronto. Those who possess illegal guns will come face to face with the full force of the law and be sent to the penitentiary for a long time," Shandler said.

"The net is not cast too wide as it captures dangerous conduct. Firearms are not toys, nor is there any room for error if a trigger is pulled. The firearm presents the ultimate threat of death to those in its presence."

All this week, the Court of Appeal panel will scrutinize six recent cases, including a controversial decision last February by Justice Anne Molloy, who declared the law's three-year minimum penalty constituted "cruel and unusual punishment" and was therefore unconstitutional.

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