Pubdate: Wed, 07 Dec 2011
Source: Manitoban, The (CN MB, Edu)
Copyright: 2011 The Manitoban Newspaper Publications Corporation
Author: Sarah Petz
Bookmark: (Mandatory Minimum Sentencing)


Over 500 New Prison Spaces Slated for Manitoba

As the federal government's bill C-10, aka the
Safe Streets and Communities Act, is poised to
make its way to the Senate, opposition of the
omnibus crime bill shows no sign of slowing down.

The bill is currently in its third and final
reading in the House of Commons, before going to a final vote on Monday.

On Nov. 25, Justin Pich=E9, an assistant professor
of sociology at Memorial University, gave a
lecture at the U of M via Skype titled =93Building
Our Way Towards Safer Communities? Prison
Capacity Expansion and the Need for an Alternative Approach.=94

During his lecture, Pich=E9 presented his research
that disputes the Harper government's approach to
crime and asked Manitobans to speak out against Bill C-10.

For me, if we know that people that often tend to
be criminalized often have employment issues,
education issues, mental health issues, substance
abuse issues and so on, we should be placing
money not into building more prisons, but
directing more services to the community [ . . .
] to prevent people from becoming criminalized
before they harm others and harm themselves,=94 he said.

He pointed out that Manitoba is going to be
taking on =93a significant amount=94 of the costs
associated with the omnibus crime bill if changes
aren't made to penal legislation at the federal
level, costs the Manitoba government will need to find ways to absorb.

They could instruct police to exert more
discretion, ask prosecutors to pursue lesser
charges against those accused, or they could go
about this by building more prison spaces, which
is more expensive and detrimental to people in the long term,=94 he said.

An additional 500-plus prison spaces are slated
for Manitoba prisons, with construction costs of approximately $100 million.

Pich=E9 has called upon the Manitoba adult
correction capacity review committee, which has
been in the process of assessing the need for
prison expansion in Manitoba, to ask for the
provincial government to demand a moratorium on
federal punishment legislation. He argued for the
need of a more broad based discussion in Canada
on how to better prevent crime and meet the needs
of the criminalized and victimized alike, rather
than addressing these issues through incarceration.

I think if we had that discussion, we wouldn't be
building the amount of prisons that we're
building right now, and we wouldn't be continuing
this prison expansion in the future,=94 he said.

John Hutton, executive director of the John
Howard Society of Manitoba, a non-profit
community-based justice organization that has
organized demonstrations against bill C-10, said
it troubled him that federal crime legislation
was being passed as an omnibus bill and there was
limited debate allotted in the House of Commons on the bill.

It's got so much stuff in it that the full impact
of the legislation won't be known until way down the road,=94 he said.

It's far too important to sort of shove through
and not allow scrutiny or debate or discussion.=94

Hutton said his organization has no plans to stop
the pressure on the provincial and federal
governments to change course on the crime legislation.

We have to muster up as much opposition as we
can. It's important to show the government that
they're going to have a real fight on their
hands=94 if they continue with their current
approach to justice issues in Canada, he said.

Despite criticism from some Manitobans over the
provincial NDP government's support of bill C-10,
which included recent =93occupations=94 and
demonstrations outside of Justice Minister Andrew
Swan's constituency office, the provincial
government has remained firm on their stance.

Swan explained that the Manitoba government feels
the proposed changes to the Youth Criminal
Justice Act will give judges more tools when dealing with repeat offenders.

He said the Manitoba government is also in
support of toughening up sentences for crimes
involving the sexual exploitation of children and
for individuals who manufacture and traffic drugs
for the purpose of organized crime, and removing
conditional sentencing for violent offenders.

The federal government has not set it up as a
buffet where you can pick and choose what you'd
like to support, but what we do support in bill
C-10 are things that we think will make our
streets and our communities safer,=94 Swan said.
However, Swan said he is concerned that changes
to mandatory minimum sentencing under the
Controlled Drugs and Substances Act may put undue
pressure on drug treatment courts if more individuals are facing charges.

We think it's the right thing to do, but the
federal government has to be involved in that.
They can't simply expect provincial governments,
like Manitoba, to shoulder the entire burden=94 in
operating drug treatment courts to allow
offenders with substance abuse problems to obtain treatment, he said.

These changes are also expected to put a strain
on the legal aid system in Manitoba, if
individuals who would have otherwise plead guilty
decide to contest the charges against them when
facing a minimum jail sentence, Swan explained.
=93If individuals realize that there's a minimum
jail sentence [for the offence], they will be
more likely to contest those charges and it's
going to be more necessary for legal aid then to defend them,=94 he said.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom