Tories' crime bill clears Parliament

The Conservatives' controversial crime bill has passed a final vote in the House of Commons, a few days later than the government expected.
The government's omnibus crime bill passed the House of Commons Monday night. The bill's measures are expected to increase the population in Canadian jails and prisons. (Paul Daly/Canadian Press)

The Conservative government's controversial crime bill has passed a final vote in the House of Commons, a few days later than the government expected.

The Tories had planned to pass Bill C-10 last Wednesday, but the NDP was able to delay the last day of debate until Friday and push the final vote to Monday.

Prior to the final vote, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said he was disappointed by the opposition tactics.

"These are very reasonable measures. They go after those who sexually exploit children, people in the child pornography business and it goes after drug traffickers, so this will be welcomed particularly by victims, those involved with law enforcement, and as we know, Canadians are supportive of what we are doing in this area," Nicholson told reporters.

He said once the bill becomes law the government will consult with the provinces to decide on timelines for implementing its various measures.

"We're going to space a number of them out," he said.

The bill had been sent back to the Commons by the Senate because of amendments made to the part of the bill that gives Canadians the ability to sue perpetrators and supporters of terrorism.

Three hours of debate

After taking up more than three hours of debate by reiterating his party’s opposition to the omnibus crime bill, NDP MP Jack Harris proposed a motion to reject the Senate amendments. The Conservatives were able to defeat the motion and pass the bill by a vote of 154-129.

Harris said Bill C-10 will not deter criminals and he predicts there will be more crimes and victims because of it.

More people will be put behind bars, and for longer, and will be released without rehabilitation and will be more likely to commit more crimes, said Harris.

"There are a whole series of problems with the bill that can't get our support," he said.

Harris said the provinces are going to have to carry most of the costs and that the federal government isn't co-operating with them on that front.

Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae said passing the bill marks a "step backwards."

He said the Conservatives are trying to micromanage the Criminal Code and are making unnecessary changes.

"It makes no sense for the government to be going in this direction. It's not a real crime prevention strategy, it's a prison promotion strategy, it's an incarceration strategy, that I think will prove to be a very costly mistake for Canada," said Rae.

The safe streets and communities act, as the legislation is called, combines bills that were introduced separately in previous sessions of Parliament but never passed. It makes a number of major changes to the justice and corrections systems, and several of the measures have been controversial.

Critics oppose mandatory minimum sentences

The toughening of jail sentences and the introduction of new mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug and other offences are among the measures opposed by critics.

Louise Arbour, former justice at the Supreme Court of Canada, is one of those critics and a member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, a group that studies and makes recommendations on national drug policies around the world. She told CBC News on Monday that mandatory minimum sentences are generally "bad criminal law policies."

They preclude judges from considering the specific circumstances of the offender and the offence and tie their hands, Arbour said. With marijuana-related offences, mandatory minimum sentences "go completely against the modern thinking by world leaders about the direction that the so-called war on drugs should take after 40 years of failure," she said.

The government says it is targeting drug traffickers, but Arbour says mandatory minimum sentences won't put a dent in what is a global problem. In her opinion, the safe streets and communities act is "a very costly enterprise that is based on ideology rather than science and progressive experimental initiatives that Canada is very famous for," Arbour said.

The opposition parties have supported the part of C-10 that toughens sentences for child sex offenders and they wanted those proposals separated from the bill, but the government kept C-10 as a complete package.

Nicholson and Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, the other lead minister on the bill, have always defended it by saying it will lead to improved safety for Canadians and better protection for victims and that it will give more appropriate punishments to offenders.