Recent Articles

Recent Comments

« | Main | »

Tories’ omnibus crime bill passes in the House of Commons

By admin | December 7, 2011

Tories’ omnibus crime bill passes in the House of Commons

By Tobi Cohen

OTTAWA — The opposition has called it misguided, at least two provinces have vowed not to pay for it and the Canadian Bar Association has done its darndest to get the Conservatives to listen to reason.

Still, the controversial omnibus crime bill cleared the Commons Monday evening, just 45 sitting days after it was first tabled.

The Safe Streets and Communities Act — a hodgepodge of nine justice bills, most of which were defeated in previous Parliaments when the Conservatives were in minority status — easily passed thanks to the government’s new majority in a vote of 157 to 127.

“Parliament has seen and debated these measures, some of them for as long as four years,” Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said earlier in the day as he called on all MPs to unanimously support the measures — even though this clearly was no longer necessary, nor likely to happen.

“The time for talk is over. The time for action is now.”

The government fast-tracked the bill through the Commons, invoking closure every step of the way to limit debate, and Nicholson expressed hope that the bill also would move through the Senate “expeditiously.”

It is likely to pass second reading before Parliament breaks for the holidays and the Senate committee on legal and constitutional affairs will begin hearing from stakeholders and examining the bill clause-by-clause in the new year.

Bill C-10 is poised to become law by March 16, 2012, the 100th sitting day of the 41st Parliament.

The Senate, however, will need to consider six government amendments proposed by Public Safety Minister Vic Toews at the 11th hour following consultations with stakeholders after House Speaker Andrew Scheer ruled them out of order.

Nearly identical to some of the 38 proposals tabled by Liberal justice critic Irwin Cotler, the amendments aimed at strengthening provisions that allow victims of terrorism to sue their perpetrators were ultimately rejected by a Commons committee.

The late day flip-flop raised the ire of the opposition, which argued this was an abuse of democracy and proof the government was pushing the bill through without adequate debate.

Cotler, who was justice minister under Paul Martin, said Monday that he has spoken with his colleagues in the Senate and has suggested a number of other amendments for the opposition to bring forward.

“I do hope that maybe the government will say, ‘Okay, the Senate is the chamber of sober second thought,’ and maybe they’ll give it that sober second thought, revisit some of their own legislation and see that it gets improved by the Senate deliberations,” he said, noting the government does, however, also have a majority in the Senate.

“The way they exercised their majority in the House, I’m not confident that they’re going to do things differently in the Senate, but there’s always hope.”

Cotler said the biggest “holes” in the bill include the fact that it contains no protection for the mentally ill, that some of the provisions are “constitutionally suspect” and could end up being challenged in court and that changes to the International Transfer of Offenders Act give the minister of public safety unfair and arbitrary powers.

NDP justice critic Jack Harris said Monday that it’s “a real shame” the government didn’t listen to experts. He argued abolishing conditional sentences for many crimes fails to take into account “special circumstances” and will lead to more crowded prisons, that restricting pardons will hurt those who’ve turned their lives around and that many of the costs associated with the bill remain a mystery.

“I don’t think it’s going to lead to safer streets. In fact, it may lead to more crime and recidivism,” he said.

“I think this government is making a big mistake and the next government is going to have to fix those mistakes and undo the damage that has been done.”

The NDP has no Senators and therefore will not be proposing any amendments during the next stage.

The House of Commons will have final approval over any amendments made by the Upper Chamber.

While few question parts of the bill that deal with support for victims and penalties for child sexual offences, the opposition has vehemently opposed parts that deal with mandatory minimum sentences for marijuana production and a harsher approach to young offenders, those seeking pardons and Canadians imprisoned abroad who are looking to serve their sentences in Canada.

Other critics, including the Canadian Bar Association and the John Howard and Elizabeth Fry societies, have railed against the bill for favouring incarceration over rehabilitation and reintegration and argue it’s based on a failed American model that has led to a prison crisis due to overcrowding.

Meanwhile, Quebec and Ontario have said they won’t pay for the provisions they argue will be inevitably downloaded. Quebec even proposed, unsuccessfully, its own amendments to address some of the Youth Criminal Justice Act changes it felt didn’t take into account the province’s unique approach to young offenders.

Nicholson insisted Monday that Quebec has nothing to worry about as the bill “in no way compromises or limits” Quebec’s ability to initiate or continue programs related to rehabilitation and reintegration.

In noting his support for Bill C-10, Chief Dale McFee of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police also indicated that there is a need for both a “hard” and “soft” approach to criminal justice, though he doesn’t like speaking in such terms.

“The reality is we’re not going to arrest our way out of our troubles but we’re not going to stop arresting,” he said, noting C-10 gets tough on serious criminals who need to go to jail.

He indicated there is also a need to support rehabilitation and reintegration programs, including those available within prisons. He suggested they’re often the first to go when there are budget cuts. He called for a “balanced approach” and indicated discussions are ongoing in this area.

“It’s one thing at a time,” he said. “Do we need to do more in that area? Absolutely. Just as we need to do more on the serious side.”

Postmedia News

Topics: Articles | Comments Off

Comments are closed.