Pubdate: Mon, 12 Jan 2015
Source: Law Times (Canada)
Copyright: 2015 Canadian Lawyer Magazine Inc.
Author: Glenn Kauth


With a federal election on the horizon, it's worth taking a look at 
what the parties are saying about justice policy.

Given their record in power over the last nine years, it's clear the 
Conservatives are likely to continue on the track they've set. While 
the government's approach has morphed from introducing major crime 
legislation to more targeted private member's bills aimed at very 
specific issues - such as the recent bill C-639 that sets mandatory 
minimums for offences involving critical infrastructure - it's likely 
to maintain its vow to get tough on crime as a signature policy.

As for the Liberals and the NDP, their positions so far suggest a 
gradual softening of that approach. That probably doesn't mean a 
significant change as reversing the government's crime crackdown 
wouldn't help them win a lot of votes, but the opposition parties 
have said things many in the legal community would like. "There is a 
critical role for judges in determining sentences, and mandatory 
minimum sentences should be restricted to serious and violent 
offences only," the Liberals say in describing their position on 
justice and public safety. The NDP's policy book also refers to 
adapting sentencing rules to "allow, under judicial discretion, for 
more severe sentences for violent crime."

Similarly, the two opposition parties would veer from the 
government's approach to drug policy. The Liberals, who have called 
for legalization of marijuana possession, say prohibition doesn't 
work. The NDP is calling for decriminalization of marijuana 
possession as well as the removal of the production and distribution 
of the drug from the control of organized crime.

It's hardly inspiring stuff and it certainly would be good to get 
more details on exactly what the parties would do to enhance judicial 
discretion. Are there particular laws where they would restore more 
judicial leeway?

At the very least, the parties should outline in detail at least a 
few key areas where they'd make changes. Justice policy is hardly a 
key driver of elections - with the partial exception of the 
Conservatives' use of it to boost support from its core supporters - 
but it's an important aspect of what governments do. Let's hope it 
forms a significant part of the debate this year.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom