Manitoba

Bill on mandatory minimum penalties that died when federal election called will be reintroduced: Liberals

A piece of legislation that was supposed to repeal penalties that disproportionately impact Indigenous peoples died on the order table before it became law -- a casualty of the September federal election.

Bill C-22 would repeal penalties Liberals say have disproportionately harmed Indigenous, Black offenders

Bill C-22 was introduced in response to a Truth and Reconciliation Commission call to action that urged the federal government to amend the Criminal Code so that trial judges would have more discretion on minimum sentencing. Indigenous inmates account for more than 30 per cent of the federal inmate population, according to a 2020 report by the Office of the Correctional Investigator. (CBC)

A piece of federal legislation that was supposed to repeal penalties that disproportionately impact Indigenous peoples died on the order table before it became law — a casualty of the September election.

Bill C-22, which would have given trial judges the discretion to bypass mandatory minimum sentences in some cases, would also have fulfilled one of the calls to action laid out by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

But the bill never made it past the second reading before the federal election was called in August.

"Basically, this means that it would have to be reintroduced in order for it to be proceeded with now," said Independent Sen. Kim Pate.

In February 2021, the federal government introduced Bill C-22, proposed legislation that would repeal certain penalties that the Liberals say have disproportionately harmed Indigenous and Black offenders and those struggling with addictions.

The bill was also introduced in response to the TRC's Call to Action No. 32, which called upon the federal government to "amend the Criminal Code to allow trial judges, upon giving reasons, to depart from mandatory minimum sentences and restrictions on the use of conditional sentences."

From the start, critics said the bill was well-intentioned but flawed. Its objective was, in part, to reduce the numbers of Indigenous and Black people in the prison system.

But most of the offences the bill targeted wouldn't have resulted in a jail sentence to begin with, or there would have been other charges that would still have resulted in the person being incarcerated, Pate said.

Independent Sen. Kim Pate hopes if Bill C-22 is re-introduced, it will allow judges to avoid delivering 'mandatory minimum penalties in cases where it would be unjust and unfair to do so.' (Colin Perkel/Canadian Press)

"The information we received was that in fact it would have a negligible result," the Ontario senator said. "It was certainly a nod or a step in the right direction, but it would not achieve the objectives."

Still, the bill could have provided "one more tool in the toolbox" to help reduce the numbers of people incarcerated, said Sharon Perrault, the executive director of the John Howard Society of Manitoba, an advocacy group for those who are incarcerated.

"Maybe it didn't go far enough, but at the same time, I think any effort at reducing the numbers can make a difference," Perrault said.

Pate said if the bill is re-introduced, she hopes it will be revamped and strengthened. 

A spokesperson for Justice Minister David Lametti told CBC News the bill is a priority for the re-elected Liberal government and, as spelled out in their 2021 election platform, will be reintroduced in the house within the government's first 100 days in office.

It is not expected to be revamped prior to being reintroduced, she said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Donna Carreiro

CBC Radio Current Affairs Producer

Donna Carreiro is an award-winning producer and journalist, who has worked for more than 27 years with CBC Manitoba. Prior to that, she was a print journalist for a daily newspaper and local magazines. She is drawn to stories of social justice (or injustice) that give a voice to those who most need one. She can be reached at donna.carreiro@cbc.ca.

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