Newshawk: CMAP http://www.mapinc.org/cmap
Pubdate: Tuesday, March 2, 2010
Source: National Post (Canada)
Author: Shannon Kari
Crime bills to be scrutinized, Liberals warn
No Easy Passage
By Shannon Kari, National Post
One of the stated reasons for the prorogation of Parliament was that the resetting of
Senate committees would better allow the Tories to pass their crime legislation, parts
of which had been held up in the Upper Chamber in the past.
But the Liberal justice critic says his party is not going to approve speedy passage of
all the crime legislation through the House of Commons -- even if that leads to
accusations of being labeled "soft on crime" -- when Parliament resumes this week.
"What you are going to see in the coming weeks is a more focused discussion from us,"
said Dominic LeBlanc. "We are not going to be wedged anymore. We will look at each bill
one-by-one to see if it is more effective for public safety," the New Brunswick MP
The Liberals, and other critics, say the Conservatives have often brought forward bills
that allow them to promote an anti-crime stance, even if the changes to the justice
system would have little practical impact in preventing crime.
"This is the first government to politicize the Criminal Code," said Mr. LeBlanc.
He accused the Conservatives of bringing forward "gimmicky" bills with "silly names"
such as the "Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murderers
In that case, the names of Robert Pickton and Clifford Olson were invoked by Justice
Minister Rob Nicholson when he announced the bill last fall. The amendments would permit
a judge to impose consecutive parole ineligibility periods for multiple murderers. There
is no instance, however, when a convicted serial killer has been released on parole. The
changes would not apply to Pickton or Olson since they are not retroactive.
There were nearly 20 crime bills that died when the federal government prorogued
Parliament and the Conservatives are promising to re-introduce all of the legislation.
Mr. Nicholson rejected suggestions that the crime package is about politics over
substance, in an interview Monday with the National Post. "We have a broad based
approach. We are trying to give police the tools they need, punish crime and give
greater rights to victims," he said.
The bill aimed at multiple murderers as well as plans to eliminate the "faint hope"
clause will mean that families of crime victims will not have to repeatedly attend
parole hearings for these offenders, explained Mr. Nicholson.
He defended, for example, a controversial bill that would impose minimum jail terms for
low-level marijuana grow operators. "These are people in the business of trafficking.
One of the ways to break up this activity, is putting these people in jail," said Mr.
Critics of the government's crime bills such as Craig Jones, executive director of the
John Howard Society of Canada, said the legislative package could actually decrease
public safety. "This is not about being tough on crime, it is about being stupid on
crime," said Mr. Jones.
"Nothing will change for serious offenders," stated Mr. Jones. But mandatory jail terms
for petty car thieves and marijuana grow-ops will clog already crowded provincial jails
with people on the low end of the criminal spectrum, he observed. "If you put people in
jail, they get worse," said Mr. Jones. "We are going to create a cohort of harder
Crimwas easily the most important local issue cited in a poll last September of
residents in 10 cities across Canada, conducted by Ipsos Reid for Global News. Far
behind in terms of significance were property taxes, transportation and municipal
"There is a widening gap between rhetoric and reality," when debating crime issues, said
Mr. Jones. For politicians who want to provide context when discussing public safety,
"there is no upside," he suggested.
REFORMING THE JUSTICE SYSTEM
The federal Conservatives have passed several pieces of anti-crime legislation while in
power, with plans to reintroduce more when Parliament resumes. Critics say many of the
initiatives will do little to reduce crime.
TRUTH IN SENTENCING ACT
Changes to credit for pre-trial custody took effect last week. Previously, it was up to
an individual judge to determine credit for pre-trial custody before sentencing. It was
customary to award two-for-one credit. A primary reason was that "dead time" does not
count toward parole eligibility. So an offender who was not free on bail before trial
would spend a longer time in custody for the exact same offence and same sentence as
someone who was granted bail. The amendments set the norm as one-for-one credit for
pre-trial custody. If "circumstances justify" a judge may allow 1.5-for-one credit.
Critics of the changes say it will do little to affect the time an offender spends in
custody. A judge is required to use the "totality principle" when sentencing, so
post-conviction incarceration may be reduced to make up for a lack of pre-trial credit.
Presently, a conditional sentence or "house arrest" is not available if a judge is going
to impose a sentence of two years or more. The Ending Conditional Sentences for Property
and Other Serious Crimes Act amendments would take away the right to a conditional
sentence for anyone convicted of a crime with a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison,
regardless of what a judge deemed to be appropriate punishment. Nearly 40 offences in
the Criminal Code would be affected. Most of these crimes, though, such as serious
sexual assault, kidnapping, child luring and arson, would rarely, if ever, result in a
conditional sentence under the current framework.
The Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act would
permit a judge to impose consecutive parole ineligibility periods for someone convicted
of more than one count of murder. For example, an individual convicted of two counts of
first-degree murder could be sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for at
least 50 years instead of 25 years. There are presently nine people convicted of more
than one count of first-degree murder who have been released on parole, according to the
National Parole Board. On average, a person convicted of first-degree murder in Canada
spends more than 28 years in prison before release on parole. This is higher than every
other western nation other than the United States.
New offences of motor vehicle theft and of tampering with vehicle identification numbers
would be created. These offences are presently covered by the theft and possession of
property obtained by crime sections of the Criminal Code. The amendments would carry
many of the same potential penalties, although auto theft would not be separated into
"theft under $5,000" and "theft over $5,000." There would also be a mandatory minimum of
six months in jail for anyone convicted of a third motor vehicle theft. Defence lawyers
say that a third conviction under the present provisions would nearly always result in a
sentence of at least six months in jail. The legislative summary provided for the
federal government points out that automobile thefts in Canada have steadily declined
SERIOUS TIME FOR THE MOST SERIOUS CRIME
This act would phase out the "faint hope" clause that permits someone convicted of a
life sentence to seek a reduction in parole eligibility, after spending at least 15
years in prison. Anyone seeking a reduction must first convince a judge there is merit
to a claim. If successful, then the application is heard by a jury. Two-thirds of a jury
must approve any reduction in parole eligibility. This will no longer be possible under
the proposed amendments. Since the first faint hope hearing in 1987, about 13% of those
considered eligible for a review, have had their parole eligibility reduced. As of
October 2009, there are 74 people previously convicted of first-degree murder who were
released on parole as a result of faint hope. None has had parole revoked, according to
the National Parole Board.
CONTROLLED DRUGS AND SUBSTANCES ACT
According to the Act amendments:
- A minimum one-year sentence would be mandatory for trafficking in more than three
kilograms of marijuana for a criminal organization, or if there was a threat of violence
or a weapon involved. The minimum penalty would increase to two years if the trafficking
is near a school.
- A mandatory minimum of two years in prison for production of drugs such as cocaine,
which is lower than sentences now traditionally handed down by court for this type of
- There would be mandatory minimums for marijuana grow-op producers, such as two years
in prison for more than 500 plants. The amendment may not affect current sentencing
trends, as the B.C. Court of Appeal upheld a two-year sentence in 2007 for a large-scale
grow-op and suggested house arrest was acceptable only in rare cases.
The most controversial of the amendments would require courts to impose a nine-month
minimum jail term for production of anywhere from one to 200 marijuana plants.