Omnibus Crime Bill: Nunavut Justice Minister Trashes Tory Legislation At Senate Hearings

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First Posted: 02/ 2/2012 12:15 pm Updated: 02/ 2/2012 2:51 pm

OTTAWA - The Conservative government's massive new crime bill runs counter to a Supreme Court of Canada ruling on aboriginal justice, Nunavut's justice minister said Thursday.

New mandatory minimum sentences will overburden the territory's courts and corrections system and fly in the face of Criminal Code provisions on the treatment of aboriginal offenders, Daniel Shewchuk told the Senate's legal and constitutional affairs committee.

"The government of Nunavut believes that taking away discretion from judges is not the right approach."

Shewchuk noted that the Supreme Court recognized restorative justice principles in the 1999 Gladue decision, which addressed the over-representation of aboriginal Canadians in prisons.

The omnibus Bill C-10 combines nine different pieces of legislation, covering everything from drug and sex crimes to young offenders, criminal pardons and the issue of Canadians jailed abroad.

It was rushed through the House of Commons last fall, but now faces renewed scrutiny in the Conservative-dominated Senate. The Harper government belatedly recognized that some amendments are required to fix flaws in the legislation.

Those flaws, however, are specific to one aspect of the sprawling bill that deals with suing state sponsors of terrorism.

But critics continue to pound away at the overall Conservative "tough on crime" emphasis.

"Bill C-10 will divert the financial resources we require to address the root causes of criminal behaviour and to fund rehabilitation programs to support a punishment model that will add further stress to our already over-burdened corrections infrastructure and our courts," Shewchuk testified.

While Shewchuk denounced the bill, the president of the Canadian Police Association testified that his membership supports it.

"We need stronger intervention that combines general deterrence, specific deterrence, denunciation and reform," Tom Stamatakis told the committee.

However Stamatakis did bolster one aspect of the argument being made by Nunavut — along with Ontario and Quebec and some maritime provinces — that the crime bill will create significant new costs.

He said police budgets are already "close to the breaking point."

"On behalf of my members, let me be clear that this legislation represents part of the cost of doing business for law enforcement and we hope that the federal government and their provincial partners can quickly come to an agreement on how to best address the funding concerns without any delays," said Stamatakis.

The police representative also managed to highlight Shewchuk's argument on the need for judicial discretion, albeit indirectly.

Liberal senators have spent the first two of 11 days of hearings repeatedly questioning the crime bill's stiff mandatory minimum sentences for those convicted of growing as few as six marijuana plants.

Stamatakis called the six-plant provision "a bit of a red herring."

"The other reality is that police officers every day use their discretion in terms of what you're going to enforce and what you're not going to enforce," he told Sen. Serge Joyal.

Conservative Sen. Linda Frum questioned Shewchuk on Nunavut's opposition to new mandatory minimums for crimes that involve sex offences against minors.

"Knowing that there must be very high rates of sexual assault in your community, I don't understand why these mandatory minimums in that area are so troublesome to you," said Frum.

Shewchuk responded that victims have to be respected and sexual offenders need to be punished, but added that the Inuit have a unique tradition of community-based, restorative justice.

"The victims also want to be part of the sentencing system too," said the territorial justice minister. "I think you need to understand — and even I don't understand it — the societal values of Inuit and the way they deal with justice."

The committee plans to hear from 110 witnesses in its examination of the crime bill.

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  • Key Measures In Tory Crime Bill

    The bill, known as the Safe Streets and Communities Act, includes the following measures: <em>With files from The Canadian Press</em> (CP/Alamy)

  • Child Sex Offences

    Heftier penalties for sexual offences against children. The bill also creates two new offences aimed at conduct that could facilitate or enable the commission of a sexual offence against a child. (MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Drugs

    Tougher sentences for the production and possession of illicit drugs for the purposes of trafficking. (NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Violent And Young Offenders

    Tougher penalties for violent and repeat young offenders. (JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Conditional Sentences

    An end to the use of conditional sentences, or house arrest, for serious and violent crimes (GEOFF ROBINS/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Parole Hearings

    Allowing victims to participate in parole hearings. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)

  • Pardons

    Extending ineligibility periods for applications for pardons to five years from three for summary-conviction offences and to 10 years from five for indictable offences. (Flickr: haven't the slightest)

  • Transferring Canadian Offenders

    Expanding the criteria that the public safety minister can consider when deciding whether to allow the transfer of a Canadian offender back to Canada to serve a sentence. (JOEL ROBINE/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Terror Victims

    Allowing terrorism victims to sue terrorists and their supporters, including listed foreign states, for losses or damages resulting from an act of terrorism committed anywhere in the world.(STRDEL/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Human Trafficking

    Measures to prevent human trafficking and exploitation. (LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty Images)

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Filed by Michael Bolen  |  Report Corrections