Bill C-10 and Why a Stronger Opposition is Crucial

The ostensibly named ‘Safe Streets and Communities Act’, The Conservatives’ Omnibus Crime Bill – C10, if passed, casts a very haunting shadow over the future of Canada and its youth. Almost every unpopular policy previously included in the Conservatives’ ‘tough-on-crime’ agenda has been lumped into Bill C10. Previous bills such as Bill C26, C15, and S10 faced strong opposition, and when the Conservative minority feared they wouldn’t make it in the House of Commons, these bills died due to the Conservatives proroguing parliament or the call for an election. They all contained crime policies that have consistently failed to generate any support and, conversely, have faced strong opposition from MPs, doctors, researchers, scientists, academics, criminologists and even senior corrections officials within Correctional Service Canada, who view Harper’s crime agenda as regressive and have stepped out against it. But still these very same ineffective tough-on-crime policies have now, in the form of the Omnibus Bill, passed in the House of Commons and made their way into the Senate, displaying the Canadian Government’s absolute contempt for any other strategy that would confront criminality or result in harm reduction in Canadian communities.

The Omnibus Bill targets non-violent offenders with severe mandatory minimums promising to put a much larger percentage of youth and minorities behind bars creating in effect, a hardened society with more of our young stuck with criminal records and even more making up the prison population. Over the next five years there is an expected increase of the prison population by 4,000 more inmates which can only mean one thing: prison expansion. Create Jobs? Sure. But jobs that people will enjoy and be key in the betterment and positive progression of society? Most definitely not.

Where is the option to have more funds for social programs or addiction research? Society needs government capital to be directed toward counseling programs for vulnerable youth and therapeutic resources for likely offenders and the mentally ill. What about the money spent on arts programs to create an alternative avenue to deter youth away from substance abuse? If it isn’t going toward these things, then where is it going? Well, take a look at our government’s prison spending and you’ll find out. Our tax dollars – dollars that are supposed to be spent to help our communities – are instead going toward building prisons and therefore right back into the pockets of the people who influenced Harper’s campaign and his party’s slogans. The numbers are shocking: since Stephen Harper’s party came into power, prison spending has increased 86% and he hopes to continue the spending increase with this Omnibus Bill.

Asked time and again by journalists and other MPs, the Conservative government still refuses to provide a full cost of the bill, but eventually came out with a figure of $78.6 million over the next five years, to the horror of Provincial governments who the majority of the cost will fall on. An Independent study by the Quebec Institute for Socio-economic Research and Information (IRIS), recently came out with an even larger number totaling the entire cost of Bill C10 at $19 Billion. Not only did they refuse to address the ensuing criticism over the numbers in public, the Tories even fail to have proper discussion of the Bill in the House of Commons. This is rudimentary in a functioning democracy but Harper and the conservatives have contempt for that as well (as they’ve displayed by their out-right refusal to let peaceful protest in this country be addressed, while they drive by their constituents in black limos at public panel discussions and peaceful protests in Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver.) But you’d think they would at least hear out their co-workers and other professionals within the House of Commons when they addressed possible flaws in the bill during filibuster time. You’d think. There were reports of severe abuse of the parliamentary procedure closure to hush and limit discussion in the House. News stories detailing how closure was used twice in less than two weeks filled the headlines. This is a rude affront to parliamentary procedure and surely defeats the purpose of open discussion as part of the democratic process.

A favorite progressive thinker of mine once said something that is incredibly befitting here. Professor Noam Chomsky said that if you look at the stated aims of certain unpopular policies, history proves that once the policy is implemented, those aims are rarely met. But if you look at the unstated aims – the goals that we don’t hear about – they are very often achieved once the policy is in place. For example if the advocates of Bill C10 such as Justice Minister Rob Nicholson and Public Safety minister Vic Toews state that they want this bill to go through to ‘reduce crime’ and ‘make the streets safer’, well the actual protocol of the bill, as many professionals have come out to warn, will do the exact opposite. But if you look at the unstated aims, you’ll see that this bill will secure that prisons are built and non-violent offenders, who’ve been hit with severe sentences, will assure they are filled. The partners and party funders who have a hand in the revenue generated by the Canadian prison system, and who have supported the conservative’s ‘tough-on-crime’ agenda for years, will surely have their aims met.

So now that this bill is in the Senate, what is there to do? How do we combat a government who jails non-violent offenders, doesn’t consider harm reduction, ignores mental health as a public issue and wastes our tax money away on building prisons across the country, only to turn those youth who have made their first bad decision into criminals serving time? Well we’ve got to pay attention. We need to make sure the needs of our youth are met – not the needs of the small percent of prison investors and conservative party funders.

The Omnibus bill crept up on some of us and even with the massive outcry it has faced already, it might have had a different fate in the House of Commons if the Conservatives had less seats and a stronger opposition. So we must be sure to keep up on our respect for Democracy and remember that the fight shouldn’t happen after a motion is passed or a bill is created; the fight should happen on voting day and every single day after, when we can speak to our MP’s as concerned constituents and ask that they help inform our communities and keep us up to date on the motions being discussed in the Commons. And the best hope we still have is that elections are always in the future and if we unite strong enough, we can use our voting power to push out the Parties that we don’t believe in. So lets keep on it, keep informed and keep the Democratic process going!