Manitobans react to the federal government's get-tough omnibus crime bill, which promises to introduce stiffer and longer jail sentences. 

On Sept. 20, federal justice minister Rob Nicholson tabled C-10, the government’s new crime bill.

Formally known as The Safe Streets and Communities Act, the bill actually comprises nine smaller bills that were introduced by the Conservative government during its minority rule, but were never passed:

The Conservatives' election platform promised to pass this bill within 100 sitting days of Parliament.

And they have wasted little time in bringing it forward. It was introduced in September, on Parliament's second day back after summer recess.

It has now passed second reading in the House of Commons, and is currently before a parliamentary committee.

Will it work? Manitobans react

  • Gaelene Askeland, executive director, Initiatives for Just Communities

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Gaelene Askeland

"It's not going to work in the way that the government hopes it's going to work. We've got a couple of decades of empirical research that the way that they are going with this bill is just the wrong way to go — longer sentences, more people being sentenced.

"It's not a deterrent to crime. It's not going to create safe streets. It's just flying in the face of everything we know that works to keep people from offending in the first place. It's just a costly costly mistake to make.

"In the U.S., California, Texas, and a number of other states have gone down this road already and are stating unequivocally that the way that they have done their justice in the past, which is the way that this bill indicates — more people going into prison, staying there longer — is just a money pit and it doesn't work."

  • Denis Bracken, professor of social work, University of Manitoba
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Denis Bracken

"Two points about the omnibus crime bill and its possible impact on youth justice in Manitoba:

"In 2010, 68 per cent of the young people in custody in Manitoba were in pretrial detention, essentially on remand. Unless more resources are put to forms of bail supervision (some of which exist now), the proposed changes to the YCJA [Youth Criminal Justice Act] contained in Bill C-10 will likely mean an increase in pre-trial custody.

"It isn't clear where these young people will be housed, since Manitoba is close to capacity.

"Second point is that aboriginal young people are more likely to be denied bail, more likely to get a custody sentence, and less likely to get a community sentence like probation. Bill C-10 will likely mean even more aboriginal young people in custody."

  • Dr. Sara Kreindler, researcher, Winnipeg Regional Health Authority

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Dr. Sara Kreindler

"The omnibus crime bill may seem 'tough on crime,' but it's soft on evidence. This unbalanced bill focuses overwhelmingly on locking up more people for longer. That's exactly the opposite of what really works to reduce crime.

"According to research, programs that support troubled youth and their families are a better investment than harsher penalties.

"But with the astronomical cost of the proposed bill, few resources will be left for prevention and rehabilitation, or to address the social and economic inequalities that provide a breeding ground for crime.

"When even Texas is realizing that more prisons and longer sentences aren't the answer, it's clear that there is no factual basis for adopting this approach in Canada — only ideology."

  • Rick Linden, professor of criminology at University of Manitoba and co-chair of the Manitoba auto theft task force

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Rick Linden ((umanitoba.ca))

"There is virtually no evidence that says increasing sentence lengths and bringing in mandatory minimum sentences is going to have any impact on crime. If we just want to look at what things we can do to reduce crime, the appropriate strategies are, first of all, police- and probation-focused, where you do things that make it more certain that people will get picked up and pay for the consequences of their actions, and then preventative programs run in the communities.

"The program that we have in Winnipeg, WATSS [Winnipeg Auto Theft Suppression Strategy], is possibly the most successful crime-reduction strategy that's ever been implemented anywhere in Canada. We've dropped auto theft by over 85 per cent and we've done that through a combination of  increasing the certainty of apprehension. And we were able to use technology (the immobilizer), which isn't useful for every kind of crime, but there are technical fixes for some kinds of crimes.

"The third component of WATSS was working with the families and the kids and the schools to try and deal with the root causes of crime."

  • David Milward, assistant professor of law, aboriginal justice researcher, University of Manitoba

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David Milward ((umanitoba.ca))

"The bill is going to diminish the eligibility for conditional sentences for a lot of offences.

"Since 1999, the courts have been allowed to consider aboriginal offenders' backgrounds when deciding whether to send then to jail or not.

"Now things like assault and trafficking of drugs or possession of drugs or property offences [will not qualify for conditional sentences]. These are fairly common offences that aboriginal offenders get caught up in.

"Because so many aboriginals are on their way to these kinds of offences, the new bill is going to step in and say, 'Well, these aboriginals have to go to jail.' So it's going to increase, in my prediction, aboriginal over-incarceration.

"Already more than 70 per cent of the inmate population in Manitoba is aboriginal."

  • Greg Robson, community justice worker, Onashowewin Justice Circle

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Greg Robson

"It takes a lot for somebody to come in and basically acknowledge what they've done or the offence that they've committed. Now what that means to the victim is there can be some type of closure. And in many cases, there can be a rebuilding or reconnection of the relationship that has been tarnished or harmed."

"With Bill C-10, that doesn't do that. What it does is take the offender away from the victim and the victim doesn't get closure and the offender is severely punished — even if they realized how wrong they were.

"So what's going to happen to the people with more severe sentences? Well, obviously they're going to do a lengthy sentence. But what it's not going to do is it's not going to give back to the community; it's not going to make the community a safer place and it's not doing anything for the victims of crime."

  • Andrew Swan, Manitoba attorney general

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Andrew Swan ((Legislative Assembly of Manitoba))

"I think it's going to [help] the Youth Criminal Justice Act. That is the federal law which again gives people the most frustration. It's not going to mandate that judges must do things, it's going to give judges more tools.

"So if a judge has a youth who's been charged a series of escalating crimes, it's going to be easier based on the wording of the Youth Criminal Justice Act for the judge to hold that youth in custody before they have a trial.

"And with many youth — and it's not just in Manitoba; I mean, I've discussed this with attorneys general in many other provinces — sometimes there's an escalating pattern in youth where their actions are getting more and more violent, they're getting more and more serious, and they are creating damage in our communities.

"If there's one thing that I think is going to happen right away, it's going to give judges the ability to better control and better manage those youth.

"The other piece is that under the changes proposed to the Youth Criminal Justice Act, judges are now going to be able to take into account denunciation and deterrence with a young offender. So if a youth does something which is so violent or it's so notorious or it's simply a crime which anybody looking at would say there has to be some meaningful consequence, it's now going to be open for judges to take that into account.

"I think that's going to give people more confidence in our system."

  • Candy Volk, anti-crime activist, North End Winnipeg

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Candy Volk

"I want the punishment, the sentences, to be harsher for these people because they're getting way with it. And they know they can get away with it because everybody is.

"These gang members who recruit these young people to go out and commit these murders and these crimes — because these young people get away with it — I think they're cowards.

"They say crime's gone down here [Winnipeg]. I don't believe crime's gone down. I believe it's gone up but no one's reporting it.

"I hear gunshots out here all the time. I just take my remote and my phone and my pillow and keep watching TV like nothing's going on."

  • Andrew Woolford, professor of criminology, social justice research coordinator, University of Manitoba

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Andrew Woolford

"It boggles the mind how youth are expected to learn accountability through a bill that so irresponsibly ignores years of criminological research and expertise, discounts the views of lawyers and others who work within the criminal justice system, overlooks warnings from fellow U.S. conservatives about the failure of similar American policies, exposes more young people to the 'crime school' of Canadian corrections, and imposes an expanding criminal infrastructure that will cost taxpayers for several generations.

"Bill C-10 offers little that is innovative in terms of making us safer. It is knee-jerk, cowboy policy. Whatever initial satisfaction being 'tough on crime' provides will soon be eroded as Canadians begin to realize the recklessness of this bill."