Omnibus Crime Bill: Final Vote Delayed By NDP Tactics
OTTAWA - Procedural tactics by the NDP in the House of Commons managed to postpone a final vote on the Conservative government's sweeping crime bill late Wednesday.
The stalling tactics mean Bill C-10 likely won't come to a final vote until early next week — a perhaps fitting end-game for a bill that has attracted no end of partisan acrimony in parliament.
Justice Minister Rob Nicholson accused New Democrats of being more interested in procedural games than what he called doing the right thing for Canadians.
"All you hear from them: 'we don't like the procedure, we had an amendment here that we wanted.' I say, c'mon, let's get on with it, let's do the right thing for the people of this country," Nicholson shouted in the Commons during a heated exchange Wednesday evening.
The omnibus legislation, which includes nine, separate crime-related bills on a wide range of issues, was a key plank in Prime Minister Stephen Harper's re-election campaign last spring.
The Conservatives promised to pass the bill within 100 sitting days of the new parliament, and should still easily meet that target despite the momentary delay.
The NDP gamesmanship, however, spoiled the government's carefully orchestrated communications plan, which included flying Nicholson, a Conservative senator and junior cabinet minister Julian Fantino to Woodbridge, Ont., earlier Wednesday for a news conference with high-profile victims rights advocate Sheldon Kennedy.
"Canadians gave our government a strong mandate to crack down on child predators and violent drug traffickers," Nicholson said in Woodbridge.
Conservatives, victims rights advocates, some police organizations and some addictions organizations maintain the measures will lead to safer communities and fewer victims of crime.
But the government itself has never set a measurable target for assessing crime reduction during a period when Canadian crime rates have generally fallen to their lowest level since the early 1970s.
"We believe that eventually the crime rate will continue to proceed in the right direction," Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said last September.
The bill's many critics — including former tough-on-crime crusaders in the United States — say bitter experience shows that the move to mandatory minimum sentences, longer jail terms, less judicial discretion and harsher treatment of minors won't increase public safety but will prove costly.
Questions over the cost of crime measures — and the government's unwillingness or inability to provide a detailed budget — helped spark the contempt-of-parliament charges that led to last spring's election, which the Conservatives turned into a majority mandate.
It is difficult to overstate how politicized criminal justice policy has become in Ottawa over the last eight years.
Jack Harris, the NDP justice critic, noted Wednesday that his party fully supports new laws that deal with a range of sexual offences against minors — and that those measures could have been passed months ago had they not been lumped in with contentious reforms to drug laws and the handling of young offenders.
Most seriously, Harris said testimony from a range of experts suggests many of the measures in the omnibus crime bill will actually make society less safe.
The Conservatives simply ignore the experience of other jurisdictions, especially American states, he said, where tough-on-crime policies have been tried and failed and are now being repealed.
"They don't do benchmarks. They don't do evidence. They don't even listen to Statistics Canada," said Harris.
"They don't even know what this is going to cost and they certainly don't know the consequences because they didn't listen to the experts at all."
15 Things Critics Fear In The Tory Crime Bill
Opposition parties, professionals working within the corrections and justice systems, the Canadian Bar Association and various other interest groups have raised wide-ranging concerns about the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/news/omnibus-crime-bill" target="_hplink">omnibus crime bill</a>. Here is an overview of some of their objections. (CP/Alamy)
15. Harsher Sentences For Young Offenders
Changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act will impose tougher sentences for violent and repeat young offenders, make it easier to keep such offenders in custody prior to trial and expand the definition of what is considered a "violent offence" to include "creating a substantial likelihood of causing bodily harm" rather than just causing, attempting to cause or threatening to cause bodily harm. The new legislation will also require the Crown to consider adult sentences for offenders convicted of "serious violent offences" and require judges to consider lifting the publication ban on names of offenders convicted of "violent offences" even when they have been given youth sentences. Some of the concerns around these provisions raised by some of the professionals who work with young offenders include: (Alamy)
14. Young Offenders - Naming Names
The publication of names of some young offenders will unjustly stigmatize them for life. Quebec has asked that provinces be allowed to opt out of this provision. (Getty)
13. Young Offenders - Stiffer Sentences
Stiffer, longer sentences will turn young offenders into hardened criminals and undermine any potential for rehabilitation. (Alamy)
12. Young Offenders - Minorities Take The Brunt
As with other parts of the crime bill, critics says harsher sentencing rules and increased emphasis on incarceration will <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/02/20/bill-c-10-omnibus-crime_n_1289536.html?ref=omnibus-crime-bill" target="_hplink">disproportionately affect aboriginal</a> and black Canadians, who are already over-represented in the criminal justice system. (Alamy)
11. Young Offenders - Forget Rehabilitation
The changes shift the emphasis of the Act from rehabilitation to "protection of society," which critics say will put the focus on punishing young offenders rather than steering them away from a life of crime. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2011/11/22/crime-bill-quebec-canada_n_1107717.html?ref=omnibus-crime-bill" target="_hplink">Quebec, in particular, which prides itself on the success of the rehabilitative aspects of its youth justice system, has argued for stronger language prioritizing rehabilitation</a>. (Alamy)
10. Fewer Conditional Sentences
The legislation will eliminate conditional sentences, those served in the community or under house arrest, for a range of crimes, including sexual assault, manslaughter, arson, drug trafficking, kidnapping and fraud or theft over $5,000. It will also eliminate double credit for time already served. Critics say these changes will: (Getty)
9. Fewer Conditional Sentences - Spike Costs
Cost the federal and provincial justice and corrections systems millions of additional dollars a year. The parliamentary budget officer, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/02/28/omnibus-crime-bill-costs-conditional-sentences_n_1306528.html?ref=omnibus-crime-bill" target="_hplink">Kevin Page, has estimated that the average cost per offender will rise from approximately $2,600 to $41,000</a> as a consequence of the elimination of conditional sentences. (Alamy)
8. Fewer Conditional Sentences - More Trials And Hearings
- Lead to more trials as those accused of crimes will be less likely to plead guilty if they know there is no chance they will get a conditional sentence and will be more likely to take their chances on a trial. Some have predicted this will lead to greater backlogs in an already backlogged court system. - Result in more parole hearings. Page's analysis predicted that with the increase in the number of incarcerations, there will be more offenders coming up for parole, which will increase costs for federal and provincial parole review boards. A single review by the Parole Board of Canada costs an estimated $4,289, Page estimated. (Alamy)
7. Mandatory Minimums
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/02/22/bill-c-10-drugs-mandatory-minimums-omnibus_n_1292894.html?ref=omnibus-crime-bill" target="_hplink">By far the most criticized aspect of the bill is the introduction of mandatory jail sentences for certain crimes, including drug trafficking, sex crimes, child exploitation and some violent offences</a>. Opponents of the measures have argued that this type of sentencing has been tried in other jurisdictions, most notably in the U.S., and has created more problems than it has solved. Critics say that coupled with other changes in the bill, such as increases in the maximum sentences handed down to some drug offenders and sexual predators and elimination of conditional sentences in some cases, mandatory minimums will burden Canada's prison and court systems in ways that are unfeasible, untenable and have little benefit. In particular, they argue that mandatory minimum sentences will: (Jupiter Images)
6. Mandatory Minimums - Higher Costs
Increase the costs of prosecuting and incarcerating offenders and leave fewer funds for rehabilitation programs. (Alamy)
5. Mandatory Minimums - Overcrowding
Lead to overcrowding in prisons. (Alamy)
4. Mandatory Minimums - Make Judges Less Powerful
- Remove judges' discretion to tailor sentences to the specifics of a particular case and offender and force them to apply blanket, one-size-fits-all sentences regardless of circumstances - Limit the use of alternate sentencing measures of the type currently applied to aboriginal offenders. (Alamy)
3. Mandatory Minimums - Over-Punish Drug Offenders
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/03/02/omnibus-crime-bill-pierre-claude-nolin_n_1316481.html?ref=omnibus-crime-bill" target="_hplink">Disproportionately punish small-time drug offenders and have limited effect on the drug producers, organized crime bosses and serious drug traffickers</a> the government says it wants to target. (Alamy)
2. Mandatory Minimums - What's The Point?
Have little rehabilitative effect on offenders and rather leave them more, not less, likely to re-offend. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2011/11/27/tough-on-crime-conservatives-doubt-tough-sentences_n_1115012.html?ref=omnibus-crime-bill">Critics point to numerous studies showing harsher incarceration laws do not have a deterrent effect on criminals or lower crime rates</a>. (Alamy)
1. Mandatory Minimums - What Charter?
Violate provisions of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and open up the government to legal challenges on grounds that the sentencing rules violate certain rights that offenders have under the Charter, such as the right to liberty, the right not to be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment and the right to equal protection and benefit of the law. (Alamy)