JustFacts

Drug Offences Subject to a Mandatory Minimum Penalty

December 2016

Research and Statistics Division

This fact sheet presents information on criminal court cases where the most serious offence in the case is a drug-related offence subject to a mandatory minimum penalty. Data was obtained through a request to the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics (CCJS) and covers the period between 2000/2001 and 2013/2014. The legislation related to the drug offences subject to an MMP is the Safe Streets and Communities Act, enacted in 2012. Mandatory minimums were not imposed for drug offences until 2012;, with only one fiscal year of data following the enactment, the effects of the MMP legislation may be difficult to gauge.

There are three Controlled Drug and Substances Act (CDSA) offences included in the analysis. These are s. 5 – trafficking, s. 6 – importing/exporting of a Schedule I or Schedule II drug and s. 7 – production of a Schedule I or Schedule II drug (other than cannabis).

The number of casesFootnote 1 with a drug offence as the most serious offence in the case increased

The number of cases with a s. 5, s. 6 or s. 7 CDSA offence subject to an MMP as the most serious offence in the case increased by 242% over the 14 year study period, from 225 (2000/2001) to 769 (2013/2014), with peaks in 2008/2009 (995) and 2011/2012 (961). Of note, in 2013/2014 the number of cases with a CDSA offence was the lowest it had been since 2006/2007 (769 cases and 716 cases, respectively).

Over the 14 year period, cases with a CDSA offence subject to an MMP comprised 26% of all cases with an MMP.

The proportion of cases with a guilty decision decreased

Over the course of the study period, the proportion of guilty decisions decreased steadily. Between 2000/2001 and 2004/2005, the proportion of cases with a guilty decision decreased from 72% to 57% and remained around the 60% mark until 2009/2010 when it began to decrease again until it reached 50% in 2013/2014. Concurrently, the proportion of cases with a withdrawn decision increased from 23% in 2000/2001 to 39% in 2013/2014, and the proportion of cases that were stayed doubled from 5% to 10% over the same time period.

The proportion of cases with a guilty decision receiving a custody sentence increased

Cases with a guilty decision have primarily received custodial sentences over the course of the 14 year period, with the proportion of cases sentenced to custody increasing over time. From 2000/2001 to 2013/2014, the proportion of guilty cases sentenced to custody increased from 38% to 58%, with corresponding decreases in the proportion of cases given a conditional sentence, fine, or probation.Footnote 2 The most dramatic decrease was in the use of fines, which decreased from 20% of guilty decisions in 2000/2001 to 4% in 2013/2014.

The length of custody sentences increased

The median custodial sentence length was equal to 90 days from 2000/2001 until 2009/2010, when the median increased to 94 days and then increased again to 120 days in 2010/2011 and 2011/2012. Around the time of the enactment of the Safe Streets and Communities Act (2012), the median length of custodial sentences jumped from 120 days (in 2011/2012)to 180 days by 2013/2014 – an increase of 50%.

For those CDSA cases that received a custody sentence, the most frequent sentence length over the course of the study period was 3 to 6 months (90-179 days). This represented 26% of all cases with a custody sentence. This proportion fluctuated between 21% and 33% over the 14 year period. There were decreases over that time in the proportion of sentences that fell within the 0 to 1 month (29 day) range (17% to 7%) and the 1 to 2 month range (30-59 days; 18% to 7%) with concurrent and almost equivalent increases in the proportion of custodial sentences that fell within the 1 to 2 year range (3% to 15%) and 2 to 4 year range (2% to 16%; See Chart below).

Percentage of all cases with a CDSA offence subject to an MMP as the most serious offence in the case, by custody range.

Percentage of all cases with a CDSA offence subject to an MMP as the most serious offence in the case, by custody range, described below

Note: The red line indicates the year the Safe Streets and Communities Act (2012) was enacted.

Text version: Percentage of all cases with a CDSA offence subject to an MMP as the most serious offence in the case, by custody range.

A horizontal time-series chart illustrates custodial sentence ranges for criminal court cases in which the most serious offence in the case was a drug-related offence subject to a mandatory minimum penalty, and for which the offender received a custody sentence. The Y axis is measured in percentage of cases and increases in increments of 5 from zero to 35%. The X axis lists every fiscal year from 2000/2001 to 2013/2014.

There are 8 custody ranges that run along the X axis. They are; 0 to 29 days, 30 to 59 days, 60 to 89 days, 90 to 179 days, 180 to 364 days, 365 to 729 days, 730 to 1,459 days and 1,460 days and above. The range with the highest percentage of cases over time is the 90 to 179 day range. The trend is not linear, but instead increases and decreases over time, with a high of 33% of cases I 2005/2006 and 2010/2011, and a low of 21% in 2009/2010. The custody range with the fewest proportion of cases in the 1,460 day range, which remains below 5% over the 14 year period. The percentage of cases in the 730 to 1,459 day range shows the largest increase, from 2% of cases in 2000/2001 to 16% of cases in 2013/2014.

There is a red vertical lines on the chart that indicates the year the Safe Streets and Communities Act (2012) was enacted, and is at fiscal year 2012/2013.

Time to case resolution was highest in 2011/2012

The median case processing time varied over the course of the study period. Time to case resolution differed by about two weeks (or 8%) from the beginning of the study period (199 days in 2000/2001) to the end (215 days in 2013/2014). The longest case time was in 2011/2012 (233 days) and the shortest was in 2001/2002 (151 days). The longest case time coincided with the enactment of the Safe Streets and Communities Act (2012).  In comparison, the time to case resolution for all adult criminal court cases was 123 days in 2013/2014, which has remained stable since 2005/2006 (the earliest publicly available data) when the median was 124 days.Footnote 3

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