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Conservatives Reintroduce Dangerous and Costly Crime Legislation

CANNABIS CULTURE - Though crime rates in Canada are at their lowest in four decades, the Conservative government today reintroduced crime legislation in a massive omnibus bill that includes mandatory minimum sentences for minor marijuana offences and other extreme and costly measures.

The giant bill, known as the Safe Streets and Communities Act, is made of up nine bills the Conservatives were unable to pass due to opposition in the last session of parliament.

As well as the drug bill previously known as S-10, it includes legislation that would boost police powers, ban house arrest for a list of offences, eliminate pardons for certain crimes, increase penalties for sexual offences against kids, and increase sentences for young offenders.

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson unveiled the legislation this morning and issued a statement with the following list of included bills:

  • The Protecting Children from Sexual Predators Act (former Bill C-54), which proposes increased penalties for sexual offences against children, as well as creates two new offences aimed at conduct that could facilitate or enable the commission of a sexual offence against a child;

  • The Penalties for Organized Drug Crime Act (former Bill S-10), which would target organized crime by imposing tougher sentences for the production and possession of illicit drugs for the purposes of trafficking;

  • Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders) (former Bill C-4), which would ensure that violent and repeat young offenders are held accountable for their actions and the protection of society is a paramount consideration in the treatment of young offenders by the justice system;

  • The Ending House Arrest for Property and Other Serious Crimes by Serious and Violent Offenders Act (former Bill C-16), which would eliminate the use of conditional sentences, or house arrest, for serious and violent crimes;

  • The Increasing Offender Accountability Act (former Bill C-39), which would enshrine a victim's right to participate in parole hearings and address inmate accountability, responsibility, and management under the Corrections and Conditional Release Act;

  • The Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes Act (former Bill C-23B), which would extend the ineligibility periods for applications for a record suspension (currently called a "pardon") from three to five years for summary conviction offences and from five to ten years for indictable offences;

  • The Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) Act (former Bill C-5), which would add additional criteria that the Minister of Public Safety could consider when deciding whether or not to allow the transfer of a Canadian offender back to Canada to serve their sentence;

  • The Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act and related amendments to the State Immunity Act (former Bill S-7), which would allow victims of terrorism to sue perpetrators and supporters of terrorism, including listed foreign states, for loss or damage that occurred as a result of an act of terrorism committed anywhere in the world; and

  • The Preventing the Trafficking, Abuse and Exploitation of Vulnerable Immigrants Act (former Bill C-56), which would authorize immigration officers to refuse work permits to vulnerable foreign nationals when it is determined that they are at risk of humiliating or degrading treatment, including sexual exploitation or human trafficking.

In July, Statistics Canada reported that crime rates in Canada have reached their lowest level since 1973, with homicide rates the lowest since 1966. This doesn't bother the Conservatives, however, who throw logic and caution to the wind, claiming Canada needs new prisons to lock up people who commit unreported crimes.

The bill has been universally panned by critics who say it is irresponsible, dangerous and sure to cost billions of dollars in increased enforcement, prosecution, and prison costs.

"Mr. Nicholson, in his comments today, was commenting about the length of time and the number of witnesses and the amount of evidence we've taken," NDP Justice Critic Joe Comartin told CTV. "What he didn't mention was that the evidence generally was overwhelmingly opposed to most of this legislation, and the witnesses who came forward pointed out the faults and the frailties of the approach they're taking."

Comartin said, according to Justice Department statistics, just the drug section of the bill would "incarcerate between 3,000 and 5,000 more people in Canada by that one piece of legislation, which is only part of this bill."

Liberal Leader Bob Rae told the press the 110-page bill will "significantly increase the prison population at the rate of $108,000 per inmate per year."

"The Conservatives are taking us in an ideological direction that has nothing to do with increasing public safety and everything to do with this obsession that they have with the symbolism of denunciation of crime," he said. "We’re all opposed to crime. I haven’t met anybody who’s advocating it, no one in my constituency is soft of crime. We all want to deal with it but this is not the way to do it."

Nicholson refused to give the specific costs of the bill or release the government's projections of increases to the prison population.

Two groups that work directly with convicts, the John Howard Society and the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, told newspapers they want to government to reconsider.

"Most people in jail are considered non-violent, by police and correctional authorities," the groups said Monday. "In order to prevent more men, women, and especially children, from being marginalized, victimized, criminalized and imprisoned, Canadians are telling us and politicians that they would rather see their hard-earned tax dollars spent on public housing, child care, pensions, health care, mental health services, public education, victims and other social services."

The drug-related portion of the legislation, known as Bill S-10 in its last incarnation, includes mandatory minimum prison sentences for growing small amounts of marijuana and would increase maximum sentences for pot from seven to 14 years. Read more about the bill on Cannabis Culture.

Though S-10 made it through the Senate, the Conservatives had trouble passing the bill during the last session of the House of Commons, but the omnibus bill is expected to pass now that the party has a majority government.

HELP STOP THE BILL FROM BECOMING CANADIAN LAW

Please contact Members of Parliament and Senators and tell them you do not support the Safer Streets and Communities Act.

Find your Member of Parliament's contact info on this list or search with your Postal Code.

Find a link to your Senator's contact info on this list - or call them all!

Sign up at WhyProhibition.ca to get involved in marijuana activism online and receive regular updates about protest actions in your area.

Watch Cannabis Culture for more info about the Safer Streets and Communities Act and upcoming activism events.

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