Not long ago, Justice Minister Peter MacKay actually said homeless people should sell off "a bit of property" to come up with the cash to pay the mandatory victim surcharge if they're convicted of an offence.
An Ontario judge has just replied with a forceful response: the mandatory surcharge is unconstitutional.
Here's how we got here:
- As part of its dubious "tough on crime" agenda, the Conservative government brought in the surcharge last October, removing a judge's discretion to waive fees if an offender was so poor that he could not pay the penalty. The new rules doubled the fine for a summary offence to $100 and $200 for an indictable offence. The money is earmarked for victims' services.
- Since then, judges across the country have been finding creative ways around the rules when faced with homeless people who live in shelters. Strategies have included giving people 50 years to pay off the fine.
- In response, MacKay lashed out at judges in December, saying people should just sell some of their belongings to cover the cost.
- In his decision released Thursday striking down the mandatory surcharge, Ontario Court Justice David Paciocco ruled that a reasonable person would find $900 in mandatory victim surcharges (for nine separate "nuisance" crimes committed by Shaun Michael while he was extremely intoxicated) as cruel and unusual punishment.
Michael, 26, is described in the Ottawa Citizen as an "addicted, impoverished and troubled" young Inuit man who survives on a street allowance of $250 a month.
Each of the $100 victim surcharges amounted to an "otherworldly" for Michael, the judge ruled.
"This is a crushing amount for him, beyond his foreseeable means. It is a sum that, in relative hardship, is many multiples of what a moneyed offender would have to pay," Paciocco wrote. “Simply put, Mr. Michael is being treated more harshly because of his poverty than someone who is wealthy," Justice Paciocco wrote.
Over to you, Minister MacKay. Free advice: Don't talk about selling belongings.