Omnibus Crime Bill: Tory Bill Would Make Canada More Dangerous, Victims' Advocate, Judges Say
OTTAWA - A group including a victims' advocate, two retired judges and a former Conservative MP say Canadians will be more fearful and less safe five years from now under criminal justice changes being made by the Harper government.
"I think fear is at the basis of much of the government's work here," said David Daubney, former chair of the House of Commons justice committee under the Mulroney Conservatives in the mid-1980s.
"What it's going to do, unfortunately, is make Canadians more fearful and less safe ... and it's all being done in the name of victims," he told a news conference Thursday.
Daubney spent the last two decades working for Justice Canada, most recently until his retirement last year as the federal co-ordinator of sentencing reform.
Steve Sullivan, the former federal ombudsman for victims of crime, joined Daubney on Parliament Hill in saying victims seldom feel they find justice in the courts, and that won't change with tough new sentences under Bill C-10.
"It's being sold as a bill that's going to benefit victims of crime," Sullivan said. "In fact, we're concerned it's going to be the opposite."
Their comments came as a massive crime bill that includes nine separate pieces of legislation works its way through the Conservative-dominated Senate.
A Senate committee was hearing from some of those crime victims in an adjacent parliamentary building Thursday, and the emotional gut wallop of their testimony helps illustrate the popular appeal of the Conservative crime agenda.
Sandra Dion, a Quebec police officer who was brutally assaulted in 2002 by a mentally ill sex offender, told the Senate justice committee that the legislation represents "the dawn of a new era."
Dion, flanked by two other sexual assault victims, spoke of "the beginning of the pendulum swinging back and finding the balance between the rights of victims and the rights of offenders."
But advocates with a broader view of the criminal landscape argue these traumatized and well-meaning women will not find salvation in tough-on-crime policies.
Provincial Crown prosecutors say their caseload is already at the breaking point and they'll be overwhelmed by the new laws, said Sullivan, meaning more charges are stayed and more plea bargains on lesser charges.
"That's not an agenda that benefits victims of crime who turn to the system for justice," argued the former Stephen Harper appointee.
The prime minister, speaking Thursday in Iqaluit, maintained his majority government has been given the green light to act.
"We're acting on a clear mandate of the people and I think people expect that we will make sure that society and victims do not bear all the costs of crime in this country," Harper said in response to a question about provincial and territorial costs associated with Bill C-10.
But cost and effectiveness are the heart of the critique of so-called "tough-on-crime" policies.
Barry Stuart, the retired chief judge of the Yukon Territorial Court, said judges and the public must remember that every person jailed for a year costs the public purse $100,000 — money he says could be better spent on rehabilitation, education, poverty reduction or health care.
"I'm a judge. I have to make my decisions on the best evidence," said Stuart. "I haven't seen the best evidence for spending this incredible amount of money on something we know doesn't work."
In fact, said Stuart, "we spend more best-evidence testing on what military plane we're going to buy than we do on this huge expenditure that's going to affect every community and every street."
"I'd like the same test applied to the justice system."
In the absence of cost-benefit analysis, crime policies are based on "gut feeling," said Sullivan.
It's a powerful driver.
At the Senate committee, witness Diane Tremblay, another victim of violence who supports the new tougher sentences, was asked by a Liberal senator what flaw she saw in the justice system in her sad experience.
"I wasn't heard by the court, I wasn't believed — not until there was another victim," said Tremblay, whose rapist received a two-year conditional sentence.
She argued that if her rapist hadn't been given a conditional sentence, his next victim would not have happened.
It's a compelling story, but those who deal continually with offenders say it misses the key point. Unless we lock up all offenders for life, they will emerge back into society. Longer sentences don't result in better citizens coming out the other end. The reverse is true.
"Five years from now we're going to have a lot of people coming back from crowded jails without being rehabilitated, and coming back into communities ... that aren't going to want them because they're going to be worse than when we sent them off," said retired judge Stuart.
Added Don Bayne of the Canadian Criminal Lawyers' Association: "The tragedy here is this is proven failed policy."
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)
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)
An end to the use of conditional sentences, or house arrest, for serious and violent crimes (GEOFF ROBINS/AFP/Getty Images)
Allowing victims to participate in parole hearings. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)
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)
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)
Measures to prevent human trafficking and exploitation. (LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty Images)