Legal Studies 3080

The Issues

Gun Control

In 1995 the federal government passed the Firearms Act , requiring all Canadians by the year 2001 to obtain a license for any gun they own. The law requires that each gun be registered; failure to register a gun can bring a penalty of up to ten years in prison.

The Firearms Act was designed to make Canada a safer place. Each year many Canadians are killed and injured in crimes committed with firearms and in firearm accidents. The idea is that if the government keeps tighter control of guns, such incidents can be decreased in number. Critics, on the other hand, say criminals will still have access to guns - illegally - but that law-abiding citizens will be less able to defend themselves.  (Note that in 2012, changes have been made to the gun registries rules in Canada.   This is covered in more detail in other legal studies courses.)

Providing DNA Samples

Many people believe that DNA testing is the biggest breakthrough of the century in solving crimes. Taking samples of DNA from an accused and matching them with samples found at the crime scene can provide a link that seems to be as conclusive as fingerprinting - probably more conclusive. Because DNA testing has proven to be so useful in criminal investigations, the federal government passed a law in 1995 to allow police to take samples from suspects of violent crimes even if they don't consent.

Critics fear this is one more serious intrusion into people's privacy. It infringes, they say, on the basic rights guaranteed Canadians in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms . Those supporting the law point out that safeguards are in place to prevent an abuse of the law and that innocent people will be at less risk of being wrongly convicted of a crime.

Abuse as a Defence

In 1990, the Supreme Court of Canada recognized that a prolonged history of being abused may in some situations serve as a successful defence when a woman has been charged with killing her abuser. Supporters of this defence point out that after years of abuse and inadequate protection by the law, it is understandable that a woman might snap. Those opposed to it say that abuse in the past should not give anyone the right to kill another human being unless it is a situation of immediate self-defence.

Legalized Euthanasia

You may well be familiar with the ethical and religious debate surrounding the topic of euthanasia - or mercy killing. Of course, you cannot debate this topic seriously without brining in the legal dimension as well. The question becomes, should some forms of euthanasia be legalized in certain, limited situations? Three cases that have brought this to the attention of Canadians are those of Sue Rodriguez, Robert Latimer and Nancy Morrison. Sue Rodriguez was a British Columbia woman with an incurable and debilitating disease and wanted the laws changed so that her doctor could legally help her end her life. Robert Latimer is a Saskatchewan farmer accused of killing his very seriously disabled daughter to put an end to the child's suffering. Nancy Morrison is a Halifax doctor accused of ending the life of a dying patient who was suffering excruciating pain (the charge was ultimately dropped).

Punishment for Drug Users

Should people who use illegal drugs but do not promote their use or sell drugs to others be punished? Canadians are so used to the idea that narcotic use and possession are punishable offences that many people never question the practice. Critics, however, point out that any harm the drugs do happens to the person using them; no one else is directly victimized. Why should drug users face a legal penalty while those who drink alcohol are free to drink as much as they want? Drug addiction, critics say, should be treated like a disease, just as alcoholism is now.
Those in favour of keeping our current system point out the harm done to society by drug addiction; only stiff penalties, they say, will keep things from getting even worse.