A broad slate of justice measures – many of them contentious for their cost and for the limits they place on judicial discretion – is about to become law as the House of Commons puts an omnibus Conservative crime bill to a final vote.
The bill, which the opposition says will fill prisons without making streets safer, has been returned by the Senate to the House of Commons with amendments to allow terrorism victims and their families to sue state sponsors of terror.
Justice Minister Rob Nicholson will be joined on Wednesday by Conservative MP Julian Fantino, a former police chief, and Senator Pierre-Hugues Boivenu, a victims-rights advocate, at an event in Woodbridge, Ont. to celebrate the imminent passage of Bill C-10.
“Our government is once again sending out a message to criminals that they will be accountable for their actions and that crime will not be tolerated in this country,” Mr. Nicholson told the Commons on Tuesday. “Our goal is to restore a sense of balance so that Canadians can continue to be confident in our justice system.”
The bill could be put to a final vote as early as Wednesday evening. It incorporates nine separate pieces of legislation that the Conservatives failed to enact into law during their years of minority government. Some have been reintroduced more than once without getting through Parliament.
Most of the measures will increase the amount of time that offenders must spend in jail or impose mandatory minimum sentences. Others will end house arrest for a broad spectrum of crimes, change the rules around pardons, and give the Public Safety Minister more leeway to deny the transfer back to Canada of citizens convicted abroad.
The amendments to the legislation that were passed by the Senate are similar to those proposed by Liberal MP Irwin Cotler when the bill was before the Commons justice committee.
They were rejected by the Conservative MPs on that committee and, by the time the government decided they were important additions to the legislation, it was too late to make changes to the bill in the Commons. So it was up to Tories in the Senate, specifically Senator Bob Runciman, to make the amendments.
The remaining 17 changes suggested by Liberal opposition senators were rejected, including a proposal to increase from six to 20 the number of marijuana plants that someone could be caught growing before facing a mandatory minimum sentence of six months.
The Liberal senators also argued the legislation will be particularly harsh on aboriginal offenders who already occupy a disproportionate number of cells in federal and provincial corrections facilities. But the Conservatives would not be swayed.
With one final opportunity to debate what they see as serious flaws in the bill, the opposition attacked measures that they say are tough on criminals but not on crime.
“The cost of the implications of imprisonment need to be weighed against more cost-efficient ways to decrease offender recidivism and responsible use of public funds,” Jack Harris, the NDP justice critic, told the House of Commons. “Evidence from other sources suggest more effective alternatives to reducing recidivism than imprisonment.”