The Conservative government is flexing its majority muscle, forcing an early vote in Parliament on a massive crime bill that critics say will send Canada down the route of the failed U.S. war on drugs.
A vote Tuesday in the House of Commons limited debate on the omnibus legislation to two days before punting it to a Conservative-dominated committee for what is likely to be a perfunctory study.
“They’re going to impose the guillotine no matter what,” predicted Thomas Mulcair, the NDP House leader.
The bill includes nine separate pieces of legislation that previous Parliaments failed to pass, including several highly contentious items:
— Barring anyone with more than three indictable convictions from ever being allowed to apply for a criminal records pardon.
— Setting new, mandatory, minimum sentences for growing six or more marijuana plants, among other drug offences.
— Centralizing and politicizing control over the transfer of Canadians imprisoned abroad back to Canada.
New Democrats want those elements of the bill hived off for separate debate, while fast-tracking measures in the legislation that would toughen sentences for crimes against children, enshrine victims’ rights in parole hearings and increase the good-behaviour waiting period for pardon applicants.
But the Harper government does not appear to be in a mood to compromise.
“The fact is, while the Opposition continue to look at ways to delay or obstruct these important measures, Canadians gave our government a strong and clear mandate to continue making our streets and communities safer,” Pamela Stephens, a spokeswoman for Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, said in an email.
Rookie Conservative MP Mark Strahl was more blunt in a posting on a social networking site: “We’re just delivering on campaign promises. Get used to it.”
The costs of imprisoning more people, for longer periods of time, have not been fully explained by the government, nor has the full cost of prison expansion been detailed. Lawyers and criminologists say the new laws, particularly the drug provisions, will require more court resources due to more charges and less plea bargaining.
Critics say many of those additional costs will be borne by provinces.
And with crime rates experiencing a 20-year-long decline in Canada, the government has provided no studies or evidence that any of the measures — controversial and non-controversial alike — will do anything to further reduce crime.
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, when pressed last week on whether the omnibus legislation will cut the multi-billion-dollar annual cost of criminal acts, responded: “We believe that eventually the crime rate will continue to proceed in the right direction.”
Mulcair said the Conservatives have long argued that they are different from Liberals, who tackled the federal deficit in the early 1990s in part by downloading expenses on to the provinces.
Mulcair argued the Conservative crime bill will result in a “massive downloading of costs in the area of law and order — and they’re refusing to give a real accounting of that.”
The Conservatives say all the issues have already been well aired in previous Parliaments.
A spokesman said the nine pieces of legislation have combined for 31 days of debate, in total, including two days earlier this fall. There have been almost 200 speeches in the House of Commons on the various aspects of the bill, said the Conservative House leader’s office.
– Article from Winnipeg Free Press.