Tuesday's tabling of bill C-10, the much-discussed omnibus crime legislation, set in motion once more a range of justice and public safety measures Stephen Harper's government has pledged and re-pledged over successive Parliaments.
It's the third piece of anti-crime legislation introduced since the last election.
The first two were:
- The fair and efficient criminal trials act (to speed up and avoid mistrials in so-called "mega-trials" where there are many accused, e.g. biker gang cases), which passed Parliament last June.
- The preventing human smugglers from abusing Canada's immigration system act, which among other things, would allow the border guards to detain asylum seekers suspected of being involved in human smuggling, for example refugee claimants who arrived in Canada in a large group on a boat. This bill is currently before the House for debate on second reading.
Omnibus crime bill
The omnibus crime bill blends nine previous bills that did not pass before last spring's election. Some wording changes have been made to reflect concerns raised by three provinces in a submission to the House committee reviewing the previous young offenders bill in 2010. Tuesday's bill includes:
- Mandatory minimums: a range of drug, sex, violent and other serious offences will now have longer stipulated jail sentences, leading to questions about dramatic increases in the costs of incarceration for both federal and provincial prisons.
- Tougher penalties for drug offences, including a potential doubling of sentences for the production of drugs such as marijuana, to target the role of organized crime in the production and possession of illicit drugs and crack down on marijuana grow-ops.
- Tougher penalties for sexual offences against children, and the creation of two new offences related to the planning or enabling of sex assaults against children.
- An end to house arrest (conditional sentences) for a large range of new offences.
- Elimination or delay in eligibility for pardons for serious crimes, as well as higher fees to apply for pardons.
- Stiffer sentences for violent and repeat young offenders for serious crimes, to protect the public from "out of control" young offenders.
- More rights for victims of crime to participate in parole decisions; more powers to penalize offenders for bad behaviour against corrections officer or fellow inmates while in detention; and new powers for the police when parole conditions are broken.
- New criteria for the transfer of Canadians convicted and imprisoned in a foreign country to serve out sentences in Canada.
- New power for victims of terrorist acts to sue individuals, groups or foreign states believed to be responsible.
- Powers to deny work permits for foreign workers at risk of human trafficking or humiliating and degrading treatment, including exotic dancers and low-skilled workers.
The Conservative election platform promised to pass this bill within 100 sitting days of Parliament.
But even after all this, the government's justice agenda has only just begun.
Still to come
Measures we can expect to see in the coming weeks:
- Long-gun registry ended.
- Revival of two anti-terrorism tools – preventive arrests and secret investigative hearings – that expired five years after they passed in the aftermath of 9/11.
- A citizen's arrest and self-defence act — to clarify the self-defence and defence of property rules under the Criminal Code.
- More power for police to conduct internet surveillance (known as "lawful access") — a controversial step that would compel Web service providers to hand over information even without a search warrant has been feared by internet experts. But the government said Wednesday it has no plans for such measures. "Outrageous claims like that one, that private communications will be intercepted without a warrant, is a complete fabrication," said Public Safety Minister Vic Toews Wednesday, responding to a question from the NDP.
- Additional support for victims of crime: a doubling of the existing victim surcharge imposed on criminals by the courts and a change to make it mandatory; and enhanced EI benefits for parents of murdered, gravely ill or missing children.
- New measures to keep drugs out of the prison system: new fines, mandatory annual testing for all federal inmates, and the denial of parole for those who fail drug tests.
- A "national action plan to combat human trafficking," which may come together with a private member's bill expected this fall from Conservative MP Joy Smith about preventing human trafficking in the sex trade.
- Mandatory jail time for repeat offences in trafficking contraband tobacco and a new RCMP anti-contraband force.
- An end to sentencing "discounts" for time-served for individuals guilty of multiple child sex offences and child pornography charges.
- Potentially tougher sentencing in cases of elder abuse, with amendments to the Criminal Code to add "vulnerability due to age" as a factor in sentencing.
- More on youth crime to "help at risk youth avoid gangs and criminal activity" and "address the problem of violence against women and girls," promised in last June's throne speech.