Fail Pardon me? Once more on the soft-on-crime allegation
One of the stated achievements in the Tory platform is: "Limited the granting of pardons to better reflect the severity of the crimes committed, especially sexual offences against children."
The Conservatives are referring here to Bill C-23, the Limiting Pardons for Serious Crimes Act.
Introduced in May 2010, it contained a number of provisions designed to make it more difficult for Canadians with a criminal record to receive a pardon after a designated period of time.
The impetus for the changes was the belated discovery that the disgraced former hockey coach, Graham James, who had been convicted of sexually abusing two of his players, had received a pardon in 2007.
The bill had several controversial elements to it, and a long voyage through the Senate and the House was expected.
But then the notorious convicted killer Karla Homolka entered the picture. It turned out she was eligible to apply for a pardon on July 5, 2010, because it had been five years since she had completed serving her sentence for manslaughter.
There was no indication that Homolka intended to apply for a pardon, but to close off that possibility, all four parties agreed on June 17 to split the bill.
A new bill (C-23A), changed the law so that someone convicted of an indictable offence would have to wait 10 years to apply for a pardon instead of five. Twelve days later, the Bill received Royal Assent, having quickly cleared the House and Senate.
Appearing before the House Committee on Public Safety and National Security last month, just before his government fell, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, praised the opposition for their co-operation on a number of pieces of legislation.
"All of us have been busy in this session," Toews noted. "We've worked together to pass reforms to the pardon system so that the Parole Board of Canada has the discretion it needs to determine whether or not granting a pardon might bring the administration of justice into disrepute."
Therefore, the Conservatives claim that the reforms to the pardon system occurred "in spite of opposition from the Ignatieff-led Coalition" is not true. But that's not really the issue when you're living on the wedge.
But what about the rest of the bill?
It is now known as C-23B, and was before the public safety committee when the government was defeated.
In their platform, the Conservatives promise that if they receive a majority mandate on May 2, they will bundle all the pieces of crime legislation that was being "obstructed" by coalition forces into one big bill, and pass it within the new Parliament's first 100 days.
Of course, most of these bills are not being "obstructed" at all. They are simply making their way through the legislative process.
Crime bills are complex, and they can have a profound impact on the lives of many Canadians. So taking the time to scrutinize them closely, and even being open to change, is not necessarily a bad thing.
Among the "serious criminals" who would be excluded from ever applying for a pardon under a re-introduced C-23B are those who have ever been convicted of more than three indictable offences.
It sounds fair minded but that group could potentially include thousands of Canadians. One bad decision, such as issuing fraudulent cheques, could result in multiple indictments, and permanent ineligibility.
In hearings over the past several months, the public safety committee heard testimony from many people who opposed those measures. Liberals on the committee said they supported the bill, but feared it was casting too wide a net, and wanted it changed.
Even Conservative members acknowledged that the bill was flawed. And at one point, even minister Toews seemed to agree.
But that's not how things work with wedge issues. As an election approached, the government dug in its heels and refused to budge on amendments.
When asked by the Canadian Press about the possibility of amendments, the minister's office declared, "our Conservative government stands up for the rights of victims. These reforms would make repeat offenders more accountable to their victims for their action.
"We call on the opposition to finally listen to victims and support Bill C-23." In this case, the Conservatives are correct that the passage of an un-amended version of Bill C-23B has been held up by the opposition."
But if the bill is re-introduced by a majority government, there's a good chance the three strikes and you're out provision will be modified.
On law and order issues you can't complicate the narrative by surrendering to opposition demands. That's not how the world works when you're driving in the wedge.
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