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Justice Minister Rob Nicholson speaks with reporters at the Canadian Bar Association's annual conference in Halifax on Aug. 15, 2011. (Andrew Vaughan/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Justice Minister Rob Nicholson speaks with reporters at the Canadian Bar Association's annual conference in Halifax on Aug. 15, 2011. (Andrew Vaughan/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Weighty Tory crime bill targets drugs, sex offenders, 'out-of-control' youth Add to ...

The Harper government has taken the first step toward passing a massive nine-part crime bill – an effort to toughen Ottawa’s approach to a range of offenders from drug dealers to sexual predators to what the Conservatives call “out-of-control young people.”

The Tories tabled the omnibus Safe Streets and Communities Act Tuesday, which rolls into one bill nine separate measures. These are all pieces of legislation the Conservatives had failed to enact into law during their minority government years but can now easily pass given their Commons and Senate majorities.

But even as he unveiled this huge justice bill, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson promised the Tories haven’t exhausted their enthusiasm for more crime legislation.

“This is not the end; this is just the beginning of our efforts in this regard,” Mr. Nicholson said during a news conference in Brampton, Ont., part of the majority Tory government’s new political base as a result of the May 2011 federal election.

This drive to get tougher on offenders is prompting Ottawa to expand prison capacity in order to house all the extra inmates the Tories expect will end up being jailed.

The Justice Minister defended the measures in the face of figures showing crime on average is decreasing in Canada. “We’re not governing on the basis of the latest statistics; we’re governing on the basis of what’s right to better protect victims and law-abiding Canadians.”

Statistics this summer showed the national crime rate is continuing its 20-year decline – reaching levels not seen since 1973 even as the federal Conservative government prepares legislation that would put more Canadians behind bars for longer periods of time.

Mr. Nicholson was quick to point out, however, that that the rate of drug crimes and child sexual exploitation has gone up.

He said the Tories earned a mandate for this bill in the 2011 election, which gave Mr. Harper his first majority government. “Our numbers have been increasing every single election and Canadians are responding favourably to this.”

It targets violent and repeat young offenders, a get-tough approach to a group Mr. Nicholson calls “out-of-control young people.”

The Justice Minister refused to put a price tag on how much it would cost taxpayers to support the new crime bill, including the expense of expanding prisons.

Earlier this year the Tories had suggested their plans for 18 anti-crime measures would cost $631-million, on top of the price of building more jail cells, estimated to total $2.1-billion over five years.

The Justice Minister noted however a recent government-funded estimate pegged the burden of crime in Canada at $99-billion and said more than 80 per cent of these costs are borne by victims.

The nine former crime bills being now combined into one include:

» The Protecting Children from Sexual Predators Act (previously Bill C-54), which would increase penalties for sexual offences against children, as well as creates two new offences aimed at conduct “that could facilitate or enable the commission of a sexual offence against a child.”

» The Penalties for Organized Drug Crime Act (previously Bill S-10), which targets organized crime by imposing tougher sentences for the production and possession of illicit drugs for the purposes of trafficking.

» Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders (previously Bill C-4), which cracks down on young offenders. Among other things it would change the rules to allow the pre-trial detention of young people accused of property crimes that are punishable by a maximum of five years or more. It would order the court to consider seeking an adult sentence for young offenders aged 14 and older convicted of murder, attempted murder, manslaughter and aggravated sexual assault.

» The Ending House Arrest for Property and Other Serious Crimes by Serious and Violent Offenders Act (previously Bill C-16), which would eliminate the use of conditional sentences, or house arrest, for serious and violent crimes.

» The Increasing Offender Accountability Act (previously Bill C-39), which would enshrine a victim’s right to participate in parole hearings and address inmate accountability, responsibility, and management under the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.

» The Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes Act (previously Bill C-23B), which would extend the ineligibility periods for applications for a pardon from three to five years for summary conviction offences and from five to ten years for indictable offences.

» The Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) Act (previously Bill C-5), which would give the Minister of Public Safety more leeway to deny a transfer to Canada of Canadians convicted abroad.

» The Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act and related amendments to the State Immunity Act (previously Bill S-7), which would allow victims of terrorism to sue perpetrators and supporters of terrorism, including listed foreign states, for loss or damage that occurred as a result of an act of terrorism committed anywhere in the world.

» The Preventing the Trafficking, Abuse and Exploitation of Vulnerable Immigrants Act (previously Bill C-56), which would authorize immigration officers to refuse work permits to vulnerable foreign nationals when it is determined that they are at risk of humiliating or degrading treatment, including sexual exploitation or human trafficking.

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