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Drug trafficking charge unconstitutional

A British Columbia Provincial Court judge has ruled that a one-year mandatory minimum sentence for drug trafficking recently introduced by the federal government is a violation of the Charter of Rights and declared it "of no force and effect."

B.C. Provincial Court Judge Joseph Galati instead sentenced Joseph Ryan Lloyd on Wednesday to 191 days behind bars, saying the 25-year-old from Alberta was a low-level dealer selling drugs to support his own addiction.

"Provincial Court judges in the City of Vancouver deal constantly with drug addicts who resort to crime to feed their addictions," Galati wrote in a decision last month on an application in the case.

Lloyd was convicted in September of three counts of possessing crack, methamphetamine and heroin for the purpose of trafficking.

He has 21 prior convictions, including fraud or forgery offences, thefts, assault, possession of a prohibited weapon and — most significantly — a 2012 trafficking charge.

With a credit for time served prior to sentencing, Lloyd spent 27 days behind bars for that offence and got out of prison about a month before his arrest in the current case, the judge noted in January.

Lloyd also committed five more offences while on bail for the latest trafficking charge. As a result, he has been in custody since May 2013.

Under the Conservatives' new tough-on-crime measures, anyone convicted of trafficking who has been convicted for a similar offence in the preceding 10 years faces a minimum sentence of one year in jail.

Lloyd's lawyer, David Fai, argued the mandatory minimum violates his charter rights.

"In this neighbourhood (the Downtown Eastside) where we are — and I don't know what the percentages are — but there’s a lot of people here who have prior convictions in the last 10 years that are addicts, that are sharing with their friends or selling small amounts to support their addiction," Fai said Wednesday.

"They would all be sent to jail for a minimum of one year under this legislation."

In the earlier written decision, Galati acknowledged Parliament's right to fashion a drug sentencing regime "which stresses denunciation and deterrence over other sentencing objectives...."

The Vancouver judge even agreed that a one-year sentence "is not grossly disproportionate" for Lloyd.

But he described Lloyd as a low-level dealer, trafficking to support his own addiction.

"This is a situation which happens daily in the downtown east side of Vancouver and is in no way a far-fetched or extreme scenario," the judge wrote in January.

Fai said the federal government brought in the law for purely political reasons.

"They get to say they are tough on crime and they are making you safer. But in reality, the crime rate is dropping. Canada is a pretty safe place already," he said. (News1130-The Canadian Press)

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