Open Letter: Call to Restore Judicial Discretion and Eliminate Mandatory Minimum Penalties

The Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould
Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A6


Dear Minister Wilson-Raybould,


On behalf of the Canadian Association of Social Workers (CASW) – the national professional association for social work in Canada, with a mandate to support the profession as well as advance social justice in Canada – this letter is to communicate our deep disappointment that, with the introduction of Bill C-75, the Government of Canada has chosen not to address the expanded use of mandatory minimums imposed by the previous Government.

From our perspective, this profound oversight in leadership is in direct contrast to the evidence based, public health approach the Government of Canada has set in tackling our nation’s most challenging health, economic and social issues.

To this end, in December 2016, the Government of Canada announced that the responsibility for federal drug policy was being moved away from Justice, to the purview of the Minister of Health. This overdue shift from previous prohibitionist policies that directly contributed to the current opioid crisis was applauded.

Further, legislative changes that facilitate the opening of new safe injection sites, the renewal of harm reduction as a pillar in the Canadian Drugs and Substances Strategy, and the adoption of the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act were received as positive steps moving away from the criminalization of addiction.

Consequently, CASW expected that review of Canada’s criminal justice system would continue this public health cultural shift by allowing the judiciary to take into account the complex social, economic and cultural factors of each case, and eliminating the criminalization of trauma and addictions.

This expectation to address mandatory minimums was bolstered by the commitment of the Government of Canada to honour of the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation (TRC) Commission – a commitment that our organization fully supports. Specifically the TRC called upon the “federal government to amend the Criminal Code to allow trial judges, upon giving reasons, to depart from mandatory minimum sentences and restrictions on the use of conditional sentences.”

CASW strongly encourages the Government of Canada to uphold and honour its commitment to eliminate mandatory minimums. Failure to do so, especially concerning mandatory minimums specific to drug possession, will only serve to exacerbate opioid deaths within the corrections system as well as in the general population, as well as to undermine other positive steps forward to address this national crisis.

Investments into communities and social services that are grounded in evidence, human rights and compassion are more effective than punishment.  It is time for Canada to regain its internationally recognized status as a progressive leader in human rights, and it can begin by restoring judicial discretion to ensure that Indigenous people and other vulnerable citizens are given the opportunity to heal and thrive.



Jan Christianson-Wood

CASW President


cc.        The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada

            The Honourable Ginette Petitpas Taylor, Minister of Health

            The Honourable Ralph Goodale, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

            The Honourable Jane Philpott, Minister of Indigenous Services