Pubdate: Wed, 14 Dec 2011
Source: Sault This Week (CN ON)
Copyright: 2011 Osprey Media Group, Inc.
Author: Bob Mihell


What happens after crooks finally get out of jail?

It has taken almost six years and a new format, but the federal
Conservative government passed its controversial tough-on-crime
legislation Monday, Dec. 5.

The Safe Streets and Communities Act, formerly Bill C-10, is a
collection of nine bills the previous minority Harper government had
failed, since 2006, to pass separately.

The bill passed easily by a margin of 157 to 127 in the majority
Conservative House of Commons despite mounting controversy over some
proposed changes.

Several of the more controversial parts of the crime bill include its
provisions to implement minimum mandatory jail sentences for violent
crimes and for some drug offences and property crimes; new
restrictions on conditional sentences as alternatives to jail terms;
tough restrictions on parole eligibility and conditions; replacing
pardons with suspension of records for convicted criminals;
eliminating record suspension eligibility for serious crimes; and
increasing the wait times to apply for a "suspension of record".

Various interest groups have argued also that the government has
rushed the legislation through the House without full consultation and

Sault MP Bryan Hayes, however, denied that his government had stifl ed
debate over the crime bill.

"That is ridiculous criticism," Hayes said from his Parliament Hill
office a few days before the bill's passage. "The legislation is made
up of a series of bills that were introduced in the past. There are
not a lot of new things [in the package]. There have been 223
speeches, 58 committee days and 123 hours of committee work where 295
witnesses have appeared, so the bulk of this has been discussed in
great detail in the past. I think that is why our government is
comfortable bringing this forward as an Omnibus Bill."

Suzanne Lajambe, executive director of the Sault's John Howard
Society, however, disagreed. She said a huge concern for her
organization is that the government is rushing ahead with substantial
changes to the Criminal Code in one bill without adequate time for
debate and necessary amendments.

Abby Deshman, a lawyer with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association,
said the national organization was denied its request to make a
presentation to the government about its concerns with the

Subsequently the CCLA had sent extensive written submissions to the
government, she said.

"There are a few constitutional issues that we think need to be
thoroughly addressed before this legislation is passed," Deshman said.
"For example, if you look at mandatory minimum [jail] sentences, there
have been Charter [of Rights] challenges based on mandatory minimums
in the past. Especially here, when you're proposing mandatory minimums
for nonviolent offences, such as drug provisions, and you have broad
aggravating factors that increase the mandatory sentences. Those
specifically raise Charter concerns."

But Hayes stressed, "We did receive a strong mandate from our
constituents to make our streets and communities safe, and we did
state that we were going to introduce this legislation. We have
introduced it, and I am very happy that we are putting the rights of
victims ahead of the rights of criminals."

Hayes added that even if the crime rate trend, particularly for crimes
against the person, were dropping, according to police reports and
Statistics Canada studies, the government's crime bill was supported
by most Canadians and police associations.

"So let's not lose sight of that. The legislation is good. The
legislation is necessary," he said. "Crime still exists, and we have
to look at the victims. This legislation is all about looking after
the rights of victims of crime, providing support for the victims and
survivors of crime all across Canada."

Chief Robert Davies, of Sault Ste. Marie Police Service, questioned
whether enough time had been given for public consultation and debate.

The Ontario Police Chiefs Association is leery about the possible
long-term consequences of the legislation, he said.

"The police are after getting tough, but personally I would not want
to see an American model," he said. "There is no doubt that this bill,
with the various pieces of legislation they're overhauling, is really
tough on crime. It's going to put a lot more people in jail, including
young offenders, and it will keep people in jail longer because of
revisions to parole and probation."

If more people are incarcerated, it will cost more to create
additional jail space and it will increase the risk that inmates
denied parole or rehabilitation programs inside will leave more
hardened, Davies said.

"People who are committing crimes are not going to be on the streets
anymore, but the concern is what happens when they come out?" he said.

"Do they have the programming in jail if you take away the parole and
make people serve their full sentences? If not, they're going to come
out hardcore. That is going to have an impact on the police, if there
is no component for rehabilitation and people come out and re-off end."

While the police chiefs support parts of Bill C-10, much of their
response through the association reflects their concerns about the
long-term implications of some of the legislation, Davies said.

"There is no component in this bill that talks about crime prevention.
We have a community policing model here in the Sault, where we try to
address the root cause of crime," he said. "We involve other agencies
to deal with the root cause. We find that is a lot more effective and
less expensive than just locking people up."

Lajambe said the John Howard Society also is concerned about the
government's plan to move to a tougher, American-style of justice. He
said the evidence suggests the get-tough-approach in U.S. states such
as Texas and California has failed.

"What they found was, it worked in reverse, and they now are trying to
back out of it. Putting more people in prison has not reduced their
crime rate," Lajambe said.

She refuted too, the Conser vative argument that Canadians are fearful
and want safer streets and communities. A Statistics Canada study in
2009, released in early December this year, shows that 93 per cent of
Canadians feel safe from crime.

Those results are the same as in a similar study conducted in 2004,
she said.

"The government should be focusing on prevention and rehabilitation
services, because there is no evidence to suggest that putting a
person in jail will reduce the chance of a person committing another
crime when released," Lajambe said.

The John Howard Society is deeply concerned also about proposed
minimum sentences for non-violent crimes, such as property and drug
offences, she said.

"The minimum sentences they are imposing on several non-violent
charges is a concern to us because there are other circumstances that
should be taken into consideration by judges. For example, where
mental health is an issue, judges would not be able to allow treatment
before sentencing, or alter minimum sentences."

The new legislation should focus more on criminals who are a threat or
danger to society, Lajambe said. "I am opposed to putting people in
custody who are not a danger, instead of providing treatment and
mental health services. Young people need to be kept out of custody if
we want to help them, because putting them in custody breeds more crime."

New restrictions on pardons to convicted criminals also are troubling,
Lajambe said. "We are not in favour of people committing more crimes.
We are in favour of people getting help so they can become productive
citizens. In order to do that, they need to get jobs. After they have
done their time, they should be eligible for pardons."

Ontario's Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services
expressed concerns about the possible impact of increasing the prison

The ministry sent the following email to Sault This Week through a 
spokesperson from the Minister's office Rebecca MacKenzie: "The 
ministry has undertaken a preliminary analysis of Bill C-10 and 
determined that there will be significant financial implications for 
Ontario if the legislation becomes law. Further analysis is being 
completed but we anticipate the inmate population to increase by 
hundreds, and our operating costs to rise by millions."

The email went on to say the new minister, Madeleine Meilleur, calls
on her federal counterparts to work with Ontario's government "to
provide appropriate funding" to address potential cost increases for
Ontario's correctional system.

Sault MPP David Orazietti echoed those concerns.

"We have to ensure if the federal government is going to download
costs to the Province that it comes with additional dollars," he
stressed. "But I think there should be as much focus on prevention,
and rehabilitation programs to assist people to become productive
members of our society."

In its 100-page submission to the federal government earlier this
year, the Canadian Bar Association, expressed its "serious concerns"
over the general direction of the government's crime bill. Lawyers
fear it will "move Canada along a road that has failed in other
countries at great expense."

In its brief, the association, which represents 37,000 members from
the legal profession, rejected the "punitive approach" in the crime
bill in favour of investing in crime prevention and

"As most offenders will one day return to their communities,
prevention and rehabilitation are most likely to contribute to public
safety," the CBA brief notes.

Wayne Chorney, federal drug offence prosecutor in the Sault, however,
has taken a wait-and-see approach to the new legislation, while
acknowledging it could push the criminal justice system beyond the
breaking point financially.

"The justice system will go beyond the breaking point. The government
will have to step up to the plate, and provide more resources, more
judges nationally, more jails, more probation and parole officers,
more criminal justice resources across the board," Chorney said. "Is
it worth the cost? We don't know until we try it, I suppose."

Chorney noted that the use and selling of drugs, particularly with
marijuana, oxycontin and cocaine, has been on the rise locally.
Whether mandatory minimum jail sentences for trafficking in drugs or
possession for the purpose of trafficking would deter drug crimes will
depend on circumstances.

"People who traffic [drugs] make a decision to do it," he said. "Where
there is no addiction issue, I think minimum mandatory sentences can
act as a deterrent to people."

As for whether the government should proceed with its Criminal Code
changes, Chorney said, "Sure, let's see how it works. It can always be
amended or repealed. If the government thinks it's going to work,
maybe it will. But they had better be prepared to offer more resources
to bully up the criminal justice system that's going to take on a
heavier load."

Hayes finished with this comment prior to the bill passing in the
House. "Suffice to say, this is cracking down on criminals plain and
simple. It is necessary legislation that should be passed Monday and
then it will go to the Senate."

Chief Davies, however, offered a final caution of his own. "The
government is promoting they want to get tough on crime and they want
to make our streets safer. I sure hope that is what is going to happen
and they are not releasing people who are hardcore and not
rehabilitated because that certainly would impact police and society
years down the road."

For highlights from more than 150 pages of Criminal Code changes in
Bill C-10, visit the Department of Justice Canada website at on the news release sidebar, and refer to the
Sept. 20, 2011 Backgrounder on the Safe Streets and Communities Act.

The get-tough-on-crime promise became a key part of the Conservative
Party's successful bid to capture its first majority government
earlier this year.

The legislation now must be reviewed and approved by the Senate before
becoming law, a process that the government predicts should end by
mid-March 2012, at the latest. Although the Senate could propose
changes to the legislation, the government is not required to adopt
any suggested amendments.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the Canadian Bar
Association, Ontario's Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional
Services, the Ontario Chiefs of Police Association, the John Howard
Society, and the Ontario government are among organizations critical
of key elements in the crime bill. 
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