The Conservative government will introduce sweeping justice reforms Tuesday with a massive omnibus bill it hopes to pass early in the new year.
The bill, entitled “Safe Streets and Communities Act,” covers everything from giving victims of crime the ability to sue perpetrators and supporters of terrorism; tougher sentences for drug offenders; tougher restrictions on house arrest; youth criminal justice reforms and as well as changes to the immigration and refugee protection act.
Government House Leader Peter Van Loan told The Huffington Post Canada Sunday that the government’s most important priority was the economy, but tackling crime is second in line.
“The cornerstone of that is the comprehensive combating crime bill that was committed to being passed during the election, the one that we will get done within the first 100 sitting days,” he said.
“We are looking to having that done through the House of Commons before Christmas so that it could go to the Senate in time for us to meet that commitment we made to Canadians.”
According to a memo sent by the Prime Minister’s Office to its majority Conservative caucus on Sunday, the bill will “tackle crime and make our streets and communities safer.”
“These tough new actions will hold criminals more accountable, help improve the safety and security of individuals, and extend greater protection to the most vulnerable members of society and victims of terrorism,” said the memo, which was also distributed to media.
Many of these reforms were previously introduced in the House of Commons but were not passed in to law, in part, because of opposition concerns.
NDP deputy leader Thomas Mulcair told The Huffington Post Canada his party fully expects the Conservatives to bring forward draconian legislation that the NDP cannot support.
“We have very reasonable expectations that … [this]bill will start dismantling some of the safeguards in the checks and balances in our system that ensure that people are presumed innocent,” Mulcair said.
“[The Conservatives] will start waving the spectre of criminals being let free, like they did on other issues in the past, and stoke the fires of division as they so often do. They will go at this not with a scalpel but with a rusty machete and they are going to try to score points with their ideologically right-wing base, so we are expecting a rather tough fight on this crime bill.”
Now that the Tories have a majority of MPs in the House of Commons, the most sway the opposition can hope to have is a delay in the legislation and a public airing of their concerns.
The Prime Minister’s Office justified the crime legislation by providing statistics saying some 440,000 people in Canada had been victims of violent crimes in 2010; 225,000 had been assaulted including 22,000 sexual assaults and 200,000 people who had experienced break and enters.
“These are just the crimes that are reported,” the memo noted. “In 2009, Statistics Canada reported that 1 in 4 Canadians reported being a victim of crime. However, only 31 per cent reported their crimes to police. Quite simply, people are not reporting to the police that they are a victim of crime. More needs to be done,” the memo said.
Statistics Canada figures, however, show that on nearly every indicator crime is down in Canada.
“In 2010, police-reported crime in Canada continued its downward trend. Both the volume and severity of crime fell from the previous year, down 5 per cent and 6 per cent respectively,” said a July 2011 Statistics Canada report on Police-reported crime statistics in Canada for 2010.
“There were approximately 77,000 fewer police-reported crimes in 2010 than in 2009. Decreases among property crimes — namely theft under $5,000, mischief, motor vehicle thefts, and break and enters — accounted for the majority of the decline. Police also reported decreases in homicide, attempted murder, robbery and assault,” authors Shannon Brennan and Mia Dauvergne noted.
Although the severity and rate of youth crime dropped and incidents of drunk driving and homicides also declined, Statistics Canada said drug offences — mostly due to a high number of cannabis offences — had increased as well as rates of child pornography offences, firearms offences, criminal harassment and sexual assaults.
Despite that, the 2010 crime rate had reached its lowest level since the early 1970s, the report stated.
The memo sent to the Conservative caucus:
– Article from The Huffington Post.
Conservatives to table controversial crime laws early in agenda
by Mark Kennedy, Postmedia News
OTTAWA — The Harper government will begin its legislative assault on crime on Tuesday — with the introduction of a law-and-order bill expected to draw fierce criticism from the opposition parties.
The move will come on the second day of the fall session of Parliament, as MPs return to their seats to focus on priorities such as the economy, crime, democratic reform, copyright protections, and a Canada-U.S. perimeter security deal.
Among the most contentious of the issues will be criminal reform legislation.
On Sunday, a memo was circulated to the Conservative caucus revealing that “comprehensive legislation” — the Safe Streets and Communities Act — will be tabled Tuesday.
“It is clear that there is still far too much crime in cities and communities across Canada,” said the memo, leaked to the media.
“These tough new actions will hold criminals more accountable, help improve the safety and security of individuals, and extend greater protection to the most vulnerable members of society and victims of terrorism.”
“Canadians want and deserve to be able to feel safe in their homes and communities and that means that dangerous criminals need to be off our streets.”
The memo said that by moving quickly on the issue, the Conservative government is “fulfilling its promise to better protect families and standup for victims.”
Opposition parties are expected to strongly argue against the legislation — noting that Statistics Canada has found that there is a consistent downward trend in violent crime.
Moreover, they will argue that the Tories are leading the country toward a massive societal shift in which prisons are overcrowded and costly — an experiment they say has proven disastrous in the United States.
In the last minority Parliament, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Tories introduced a range of crime bills which withered — in part because they lacked the support of the opposition parties.
In the recent election campaign, Harper promised to bundle those 12 bills as omnibus legislation if re-elected and ensure passage within 100 sitting days of the new Parliament’s launch.
Harper was re-elected with a majority, meaning he now has the power to pass the legislation which is expected to be pulled together in a handful of thematic omnibus bills.
It wasn’t clear Sunday how much of the bill to be tabled Tuesday will incorporate the 12 bills held over from the last Parliament.
Overall, the new measures coming forward this fall will include ending house arrest of criminals, ending automatic pardons for serious crimes, cracking down on organized drug crime, protecting children from sexual predators and strengthening citizens powers to defend themselves and their property.
Under the Tories’ justice agenda, judges will lose discretion when it comes to handing down sentences, and the country’s prisons will be filled with more inmates who will spend more time there.
In July, Statistics Canada reported that there were fewer homicides, attempted murders, serious assaults and robberies across Canada in 2010.
In 2009, there were 801 attempted murders in Canada, but 2010 saw only 693, making last year’s rate the lowest for this offence in more than 30 years.
As in the past, most crimes (79 per cent) were non-violent. That includes theft under $5,000, mischief and break-ins.
At the time, the figures were downplayed by Justice Minister Rob Nicholson’s spokesman, who said the Tories “don’t use these statistics as an excuse not to get tough on criminals.”
But Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett said the government’s tough-on-crime agenda is divorced from the reality of crime in Canada.
“The Harper government’s ideologically driven crime agenda is outrageously costly and completely out of line with crime in Canada,” she said. “The crime rate is constantly going down, but the expenditures from prisons are going through the roof.”
Canada’s federal corrections system cost nearly $1.6 billion per year when the Conservatives took power in 2005-06, but the projected cost for 2011-12 has increased to $2.98 billion per year, according to Corrections Canada.
By 2013-14, the cost of the federal penitentiary system will have almost doubled to $3.147 billion, according to budget projections.
Crimes committed in Canada were down five per cent in 2010 according to Statistics Canada. The most serious crimes are also down six per cent.
However, sexual assaults, use of a firearm, criminal harassment, child pornography and drug offences have increased slightly.
The relevance of these numbers is expected to fuel the parliamentary debate in coming weeks — with the governing Tories saying they tell just part of the story.
In the memo distributed to caucus, the Tories were provided a list of figures about what police reported in 2010:
• Over two million crimes in Canada, including 440,000 violent crimes.
• 225,000 assaults, 22,000 sexual assaults, and 17,000 assaults against police officers.
• Over 1.3 million property crimes, including approximately 200,000 break and enters, 92,000 motor vehicle thefts, 90,000 frauds, and 12,000 arsons.
• Approximately 85,000 cases of impaired driving.
“These are just the crimes that are reported,” said the memo.
“In 2009, Statistics Canada reported that 1 in 4 Canadians reported being a victim of crime. However, only 31 per cent reported their crimes to police. “
“Quite simply, people are not reporting to the police that they are a victim of crime. More needs to be done.”
– Article from The Montreal Gazette.