Getting 'tough on crime' was a key Conservative election plank and the party promised passage of new anti-crime legislation within 100 days if elected with a majority government in 2011. Bill C-10 (called the Safe Streets and Communities Act) was introduced Dec 5, 2011.  It was an omnibus bill comprising of nine former bills that were introduced by the Conservatives during their minority rule but never passed.

Critics allege that it was rushed through Parliament to meet the new government's deadline. Expert witnesses attempting to comment on more than 150 pages of legislation in hearings were cut off after 5 minutes. The bill passed and became law on March 12, 2012.

Key Changes:
  • Mandatory minimums. The law introduced mandatory jail sentences for many crimes including drug trafficking, sex crimes, child exploitation and some violent offences.  Critics say minimum sentences will lead to overcrowding in prisons and removes the judges' discretion to tailor sentences to the specifics of a particular case. The law will disproportionately punish small time offenders and have little rehabilitative effect, leaving them more likely to re-offend.
  • Fewer conditional sentences. The law eliminates conditional sentences, those served in the community or under house arrest, for crimes including sexual assault, manslaughter, arson, drug trafficking, kidnapping and fraud or theft over $5000. It also eliminates double credit for time already served. Critics say this will add millions of dollars to the justice and corrections systems each year. They also predict more stress on Canada's already back-logged court system as more accused will be less likely to plead guilty if they know there is no chance they'll get a conditional sentence and take their chances on a trial instead. It will also result in more parole hearings as the number of incarcerations increases.
  • Harsher sentences for young offenders.  Tougher sentences for violent and repeat young offenders. The legislation requires the Crown to consider adult sentences for offenders convicted of serious violent offences and require judges to consider lifting the publication ban on names of offenders convicted of violent offences even when they have been given youth sentences. The law also expands the defination of violent crime to include reckless acts that don't actually cause harm. Critics say that young offenders will be unjustly stigmatized for life and that the law will push the focus away from rehabilitation. Stiffer and longer sentences may turn young offenders into hardened criminals.
  • Eliminate pardons for serious crimes. The word 'pardon' is replaced with 'record suspension'. Some people would be ineligible including those convicted of sexual offences against minors and those convicted of more than three offences. All indictable changes are subject to a 10 year wait. And fees were raised to $631 plus the cost of obtaining fingerprints, copy of criminal records, court documents, and local police record checks, an amount that could be a serious obstacle for many. As a result, critics say tens of thousands of pardon applications are currently in limbo and people are unable to move foward with their lives in new jobs and careers. 
  • Keeps prisoners abroad. The government now has more discretion to decide if Canadians imprisoned abroad can return to Canada to serve their sentences. Critics say that this denies Canadians access to rehabilitation programs and keep thems away from family and friends who can help them reintegrate into society when they are released.
Provincial Costs in Implementing Bill C-10

Since the Bill also effects the sentencing of prisoners in provincial jails, it is expected that provinces across Canada will have to shoulder additional costs to implement the Bill.  Ontario pegged the cost of incorporating the Bill at more then 1 billion to house an additional 1500 inmates and requiring the construction of a 1000 bed facility. The Quebec govenment has refused to pay for new costs, which they estimated at 600,000 million, and asked for an exception to the clauses pertaining to youth offenders as they have a progressive rehabiltation program of their own. 

Two Years Later

Two years after passage, there are no solid numbers to indicate how many additional convicts were sent to prison and at what cost. The crime rate in Canada still continues to drop.

The Bill has had serious legal challenges in court. It suffered a blow when Ontario Superior Court Judge Anne Molloy concluded that sending a man to prison for three years, even though he was found holding a loaded handgun, was unconstitutional. Leroy Smickle, 30, of Toronto, was caught in “adolescent preening” with a pistol and a web camera when, coincidentally, police burst into his cousin’s apartment.

In April 2014, the Supreme Court of Canada restored the amount credit that offenders can receive for time spent in custody before they are sentenced.

And the Quebec Bar Association launched a legal challenge in late 2012 seeking to strike down sections of Bill C-10 involving mandatory minimums - penalties that set minimum sentences which they say represent an unconstitutional interference from one branch of government, the legislature, in the business of another, the judiciary.

More Tough-on-Crime Legislation Coming

Since the passage of Bill C-10, the Conservative government and several conservative members of parliament have put forward a slew of new get-tough laws. Bill C-394,  introduced in May 2013, proposes a new Criminal Code offence that prohibits recruiting or encouraging a person to join a criminal organization. Anyone convicted could be put in jail for up to five years. The offence would have a mandatory minimum sentence of six months if the person recruited is under the age of 18. Bill C-479, also introduced in May 2013, increases the maximum time between hearings for violent offenders to five years from two and requires parole boards to make a greater effort to allow victims and their families to present statements during hearings or provide written or recorded submissions. Both of these bills contain errors that may make them vunerable to court challenges.

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