OTTAWA - Sweeping changes to Canada's criminal-justice regime have been introduced in the House of Commons as part of an omnibus Conservative crime bill.
The Harper government said during the spring election it would bundle a series of proposed measures as part of its self-described "tough-on-crime" agenda.
It promised to pass the massive bill within 100 parliamentary sitting days.
The legislation tabled in the Commons includes nine bills incorporating changes to drug laws, youth sentencing, detention of refugees, parole and house arrest and anti-terrorism measures.
"Canadians want and deserve to feel safe in their homes and in their communities," Justice Minister Rob Nicholson declared in Brampton, Ont, at one of several news conferences constituting a full-press, public-relations effort to tout the politically popular reforms.
SUBSCRIBE AND FOLLOW POLITICS
Get top stories and blog posts emailed to me each day. Newsletters may offer personalized content or advertisements. Learn more
"They want a government that is committed to fighting crime and protecting Canadians so that their communities are safe places for people to live, raise their families and do business."
But critics say the measures are hugely costly and have been proven ineffective over three decades of increasingly draconian "tough-on-crime" campaigns in the United States.
A coalition of justice groups held a news conference as the bill went before Parliament, calling it costly and a threat to human rights in an already overcrowded prison system.
Catherine Latimer, executive director of the John Howard Society, said parts of the provincial and federal correctional systems are so stuffed they may already violate charter protections against cruel and unusual punishment.
The omnibus bill will only exacerbate the problems and could send correctional costs through the roof, she said.
"These costs will be borne by the provinces and by taxpayers across the country and we believe that those need to be fully assessed and disclosed," said Latimer.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government fell last spring in part due to a contempt-of-Parliament motion that sprang from the Conservative cabinet's refusal to detail the full cost of the changes.
The bill, known as the Safe Streets and Communities Act, includes the following measures: