Omnibus Crime Bill: Massive Conservative Legislation Passes After Brief Delay By NDP

First Posted: 03/12/2012 3:05 pm Updated: 03/13/2012 4:09 pm

Omnibus Crime Bill
Stephen Harper's majority Conservative government is poised to pass its omnibus crime bill and make good on an election promise with a couple of days to spare. (CP/Jupiter Images)

OTTAWA - The Conservative government that rushed to pass a massive crime bill by curtailing debate in the House of Commons and Senate now says it will take its time making the new measures a reality on the street.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's majority easily passed Bill C-10 on Monday evening by a vote of 154-129, sweeping aside a procedural delay by the NDP that stalled the bill's curtain call for five days.

The legislation, which includes nine separate bills, goes briefly back to the Senate and could get royal assent as early as Tuesday — meeting Harper's campaign promise last spring to pass the bill within 100 sitting days of a new parliament.

Working the changes through the justice system will take considerably longer.

"We're going to space out a number of them out," Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said outside the Commons before the final vote Monday.

"I indicated to my provincial colleagues when I met with them about a month ago now that, you know, we'll proclaim them into effect in consultation with them."

Nicholson didn't provide an order of precedence.

The bill increases sentences for drug and sex offences, reduces the use of conditional sentences such as house arrest, provides harsher penalties on young offenders, makes it more difficult to get a pardon, gives crime victims more say in parole hearings and allows victims of terrorism to sue.

Supporters, including victims rights groups and some police organizations, say the bill helps correct a justice system that has swung too far toward the rights of criminals.

Critics have said the changes will do nothing for public safety but will cost literally hundreds of millions of dollars from increased jail populations, much of it bourne by provinces and territories. The changes are also expected to clog the courts as many offenders will opt for trials rather than agreeing to a plea deal for a crime that carries a mandatory minimum sentence.

The government has never even attempted to answer what exactly the justice changes will achieve in terms of the overall crime rate, number of victims, the cost of crime to the community or the incidence of violent crime.

"This sends the message out to people if you get involved with this kind of activity, there will be serious consequences," Nicholson reiterated Monday.

Nor has the government ever provided a credible, detailed costing of the legislation.

Parliament's independent budget office spent six months researching one small aspect of the bill — curtailing the use of conditional sentences — and found it will cost the provinces about $750 million over the next five years, mostly for increased jail time.

New mandatory minimum jail terms for growing as few as six pot plants were internationally panned in an open letter to Harper that pointed out the war on drugs has been a repeated, dismal failure across the globe — fuelling the very violence and organized crime it is supposed to combat.

None of it has slowed the bill's inexorable progress.

This coming weekend marks the deadline Harper set last April when he made his catchy 100-day campaign promise on the crime agenda.

New Democrats used procedural tactics last week to momentarily delay the final vote, spoiling a Conservative communications exercise in Woodbridge, Ont., where several top Tories had flown at taxpayer expense to tout the legislation's expected passage.

Bill C-10 initially cleared the House of Commons in December, but in the government's haste — including time allocation to limit debate — it overlooked some important gaps that had been raised by Liberal MP Irwin Cotler, a former justice minister.

The Senate had to fix the victims of terrorism provisions, and sent the legislation back to the House last week for final approval.

"We're at the end of the road," said NDP justice critics Jack Harris, "but this government has persisted in pursuing a course of action that we heard much evidence is not actually going to reduce crime and not going to make our streets safer and is going in the wrong direction."

Harris noted the NDP supports tougher laws for child predators and the government could have had those new laws on the books months ago if it had agreed to split them off from more contentious elements.

Bob Rae, the interim Liberal leader, called the legislation "a very expensive adventure, a very expensive and frankly unnecessary experiment."

"It's not a real crime prevention strategy," said Rae. "It's a prison promotion strategy, it's an incarceration strategy, that I think will prove to be a very costly mistake for Canada."

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  • 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)

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Filed by Michael Bolen  |