Prime Minister Stephen Harper promised during the recent election campaign to bundle all of his government’s unpassed law-and-order legislation into an omnibus bill that would become law within 100 sitting days the new Parliament. That commitment was reinforced in Friday’s Speech from the Throne.
It is not known which justice bills and public-safety bills would be included in the omnibus legislation. But here is a brief synopsis of those that died in March with the fall of the minority Conservative government.
Bill C-4 (Sebastien’s Law): Protecting the public from violent young offenders
What it would do: Make public safety a primary goal of young offenders legislation, keep violent and repeat young offenders off the streets while they are awaiting trial, require courts to consider adult sentences for youths convicted of the most serious crimes, enable the courts to impose harsher sentences on other violent and repeat offenders, and allow the publication of the names of violent young offenders.
Why the government says it is necessary: To give Canadians greater confidence that violent and repeat young offenders will be held accountable.
What critics say: Keeping young people in jail for longer periods has not been proven to reduce youth crime rates, programs that respond to the needs of children with mental illness and developmental disorders would have more impact, and jailing teens can turn them into angry dysfunctional adults who are more likely to commit crime.
Bill C-5: Keeping Canadians Safe: International Transfer of Offenders
What it would do: Allow the Minister of Public Safety to consider a number of factors when deciding whether an offender convicted in another country will be granted a transfer back to Canada. Those factors include whether they would endanger public safety, whether they would continue to engage in criminal activities, and whether they have been participating in rehabilitation and cooperating with law enforcement.
Why the government says it is necessary: Offenders should be held accountable for their actions in Canada and abroad.
What critics say: Offenders who have spent years in repressive jails in other countries and are released at the end of their sentences may return to this country unprepared to reintegrate into Canadian society. Also, there is no reasonable test to determine that someone would be likely to continue their criminal activity once they are here.
Bill C-16: Ending house arrest for property and other serious crimes by serious and violent offenders
What it would do: Prevent judges from imposing conditional sentences for crimes involving serious personal injury, crimes which carry a maximum prison term of 14 years or more, and some other specified offences - escaping prison, luring a child, criminal harassment, sexual assault, human trafficking, abduction, theft over $5,000, breaking-and-entering, and arson - when those offences are prosecuted by indictment rather than the less serious summary conviction.
Why the government says it is necessary: Punishment should fit the crime and criminals who commit serious property and violent offences will serve jail time.
What critics say: Conditional sentences significantly reduce incarceration rates saving tax dollars and offenders are more likely to be rehabilitated with conditional sentences.
Bill C-23B: Eliminating pardons for serious crimes
What it would do: Replace the term pardon with “record suspension” and deny the suspensions to people convicted of sexually abusing children as well as and those convicted, by indictment, of more than three offences. Criminals convicted by indictment would have to wait 10 years for a record suspension. Those receiving less serious summary convictions would have to wait five years.
Why the government says it is necessary: Under the current system pardons are granted almost automatically. The new system would allow a record suspension in more limited circumstances and it would make a record suspension impossible for anyone convicted of a sex offence against a child.
What critics say: It is difficult for former offenders with a criminal conviction to find work and to fit into society. Making them wait longer to live productive lives could increase the likelihood that they will reoffend.
Bill C-50: Improving Access to Investigative Tools for Serious Crimes; Bill C-51: Investigative Powers for the 21st Century; and Bill C-52: Investigating and Preventing Criminal Electronic Communications
What they would do: A trio of “lawful access” bills that would help enforcement officials to eavesdrop on suspected criminals. Bill C-50 would make it easier for police to get warrants to intercept private communications, allow them to use private number recorders without a warrant, and extend the period that tracking devices can be used during investigations of terrorism or organized crime. Bill C-51 would allow investigators to learn more about private communications over the internet, outlaw the possession of computer viruses, and require internet service providers to preserve information of interest to police. Bill C-52 requires companies offering telecommunications services in Canada to build intercept capability into their networks for use by law enforcement officials.
Why the government says these bills are necessary: These bills will provide law enforcement agencies with new, specialized investigative powers to help them take action against internet child sexual exploitation, disrupt online organized crime activity and prevent terrorism.
What critics say: Federal and provincial privacy commissioners say they fear these bills will substantially diminish the privacy rights of Canadians and urge that less intrusive alternatives be explored.
Bill C-53: Fair and efficient criminal trials
What it would do: End lengthy and expensive “mega-trials” by appointing a case-management judge to narrow the evidence, impose deadlines and encourage agreements between parties. Joint hearings could be held in multiple cases with similar evidence, new trials that follow mistrials would be streamlined, technical errors would be less likely to disrupt entire cases, and additional jurors could be sworn in from the outset to prevent mistrial situations.
Why the government says this is necessary? Mega-trials involve a large amount of complex evidence, numerous charges against multiple accused, and the need to call many witnesses. This can take up a lot of court time and generate excessive delays, increasing the risk of mistrials.
What critics say: There has been little criticism of this fairly recent bill but some criminal lawyers worry they would be bound by decisions made at earlier trials.
Bill C-54: Protecting children from sexual predators
What it would do: Impose mandatory minimum sentences for a range of sexual offences involving someone under the age of 16 and create two new offences, one for making sexually explicit information available to a child and another for agreeing or arranging to commit a sexual offence against a child.
Why the government says this is necessary: Sexual exploitation of children is reprehensible and that the criminal law must treat all forms of child sexual exploitation as such, including by imposing penalties that fit the severity of this crime.
What critics say: Mandatory minimum sentences remove judges’ discretion to impose sentences that are consistent with all of the facts put before them. When there is a mandatory minimum sentence, offenders are less likely to enter a guilty plea which will mean more trials in a system that is already backlogged. Longer jail sentences will further overcrowd jails.
Bill S-7: An Act to deter terrorism and amend the State Immunity Act
What it would do: Allow victims of terrorism to sue individuals, organizations and foreign states for loss or damage. It also allows victims to sue foreign states that have supported terrorists that have committed offences against them. The loss or damage may have occurred outside Canada but it must be substantial and the act of terrorism must have taken place after January 1985.
Why the government says this is necessary: The legislation would provide victims with the ability to seek redress for damages or losses resulting from terrorist acts that can occur anywhere in the world.
What critics say: Legal experts have pointed out that terrorists and rogue nations are unlikely to comply with any court-ordered redress in Canada and that those states that sponsor terrorism are not likely to have tangible assets in Canada that could be seized.
Bill S-10: Penalties for organized drug crime
What it would do: Impose mandatory penalties for certain drug crimes and special penalties for drug offences that are carried out by organized criminal gangs or those that target youth. Possession of six marijuana plants for the purposes of trafficking, for instance, would result in a mandatory six-month term. The production of cannabis oil or resin would mean a year and a half behind bars.
Why the government says this is necessary: Illicit drug production is the most significant source of money for gangs and organized crime in Canada. This legislation is essential to assist law enforcement agencies in cracking down on drug producers and dealers who threaten the safety of children, neighbourhoods and communities.
What critics say: Mandatory minimum sentences would be imposed for low-level non-violent drug transactions. The bill would result in the disproportionate incarceration of young people and would significantly increase the number of non-violent petty criminals behind bars.