03/12/2012 03:05 EDT | Updated 05/12/2012 05:12 EDT

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

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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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