Pubdate: Thu, 10 Feb 2011
Source: Windsor Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2011 The Windsor Star
Author: Meagan Fitzpatrick, Postmedia News
Bookmark: (Mandatory Minimum Sentencing)


Liberals Won't Support It

The Conservative government's controversial bill that would impose 
mandatory jail time for offenders caught growing a handful of 
marijuana plants appears headed to the trash can.

The Liberals announced Wednesday they will not support Bill S-10, 
which has already been passed by the Senate.

"I'm very disappointed that they have had this complete flip-flop," 
Justice Minister Rob Nicholson told Postmedia News.

The Liberals, who supported previous versions of the bill, now say it 
would excessively punish some people for minor offences and would 
cost too much to implement because it will jam prisons that are 
already filled to the brink. The Conservatives have said they will 
spend $2 billion over the next five years to expand prisons.

"We just think this is bad criminal justice policy," Liberal Leader 
Michael Ignatieff told reporters Wednesday. "It's going to cost this 
country billions of dollars. We think it's the wrong way to go."

The NDP and Bloc Quebecois have always been against the bill, first 
introduced in 2008, but the Liberals helped the Tories pass it 
through the House of Commons and onto the Senate in December 2009. 
Liberals in the upper chamber watered the bill down and it was in its 
final stages when Prime Minister Stephen Harper prorogued Parliament, 
killing the legislation.

A new bill -closer to the original version that ignored the Liberal 
amendment -was introduced in the Senate in May 2010.

The Liberal senators tried again to amend the bill at the Senate 
legal and constitutional affairs committee but failed after losing 
their majority in the upper chamber. The bill passed on Dec. 13, 2010.

It's now in the hands of MPs and on Wednesday the government put S-10 
on notice, meaning it could be raised for de-

bate in the next few days. That move prompted the Liberals to 
announce their new position, which effectively seals the fate of the 
bill and will force the Tories to start from scratch, again.

Nicholson, however, isn't prepared to accept that the bill is headed 
for defeat.

He's hoping enough Liberals will break party ranks and defy 
Ignatieff, siding instead with the government. "I'm hoping that they 
will lean on him to get this bill passed. So I'm not giving up."

While the Liberals say the bill could unfairly target young people, 
Nicholson said the proposed changes to the existing laws are aimed 
squarely at drug traffickers and organized crime.

The bill would impose a mandatory minimum sentence of six months in 
jail for an offender convicted of growing between five and 201 
marijuana plants for the purpose of trafficking. The more plants that 
are grown, the longer the minimum sentence.

The bill also proposes a series of other changes to current drug 
laws, including mandatory sentences for drug crimes committed near schools.

"This bill sends out the right message and the idea that we shouldn't 
be jailing people who are selling drugs around schools or people who 
are bringing drugs into Canada is something I completely disagree 
with," said Nicholson. "And I think most Canadians agree would agree with me."

Critics of automatic sentencing say the measures will flood prisons 
that are already overcrowded, will strip judges of their discretion 
to impose sentences as they see fit and are ineffective in reducing 
drug use and improving public safety.

"It's going to add huge amounts of money to Canadian prison costs, 
it's going to target young people, a guy who gets messed up with 
Tylenol 3 or has six marijuana plants," Ignatieff said. "We just 
think this is not the right way to go for Canadian justice policy. It 
follows a failed American model so we're going to vote against it."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom