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Updated: Thu, 03 Oct 2013 14:40:36 GMT | By CBC News, cbc.ca

Yukon judge challenges federal tougher sentencing law



The courthouse in Whitehorse is shown. CBC

The courthouse in Whitehorse is shown. CBC

A Yukon judge says one of the federal government's recent laws designed to get tougher on criminals is unconstitutional.

In a precedent-setting decision likely to face appeals, Judge Karen Ruddy refused to apply the federal Truth In Sentencing Act in the case of David Chambers.

The act, which received Royal Assent and became law almost four years ago, would remove the ability for judges to reduce prison sentences by two days for each day a person spent in jail while awaiting trial and sentencing. In rare cases, the ratio was 3-1 if their detention conditions were deemed particularly difficult.

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The new legislation means that as a general rule, the amount of credit for time served will be capped at a ratio of 1-1.

In Chambers's case, he had been jailed almost two years and Crown prosecutors wanted the new standards applied — which would not allow the judge to reduce his sentence for time served. 

But in a 62-page ruling released this week, Ruddy refused to accept the law, arguing the law violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms because "it has a grossly disproportionate impact on aboriginal offenders." 

It also "offends the Charter of Rights" by denying Chambers equality under the law, Ruddy wrote.

Chambers lawyer welcomed the decision. "We think it's a very big deal and we're thrilled with the decision," Brook Land-Murphy said.

Land-Murphy described the case as a victory for aboriginal people.

"It's a very significant issue that affects virtually all of our clients at legal aid and has the possibility to have ramifications in other juristictions," Land-Murphy said.

Yukon's federal prosecutors are studying the ruling, but Land-Murphy says she's almost positive the case will go to the Court of Appeal.

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