The government’s omnibus crime bill was back in the House of Commons Tuesday after it was amended last week in the Senate and it could be one day away from becoming law.
Members of Parliament debated Bill C-10 — the safe streets and communities act — but NDP MP Jack Harris dominated most of the time allotted by talking about the bill for more than two hours.
Debate will continue Wednesday afternoon and Harris indicated he would be prepared to keep talking, but told reporters he wasn’t sure how long he would continue his speech.
A vote on the bill could be held Wednesday evening, but the government did not confirm the exact schedule for when MPs will hold their final vote.
Justice Minister Rob Nicholson had opened debate on the bill by saying Canada needs legislation that is responsive to what is happening on the country’s streets and meets Canadians’ expectations.
“It’s our job as parliamentarians to deal with criminals, to protect society and do whatever we can to deter crime,” he said.
Child pornography warrants lengthy and serious sentences, he said, and Canadians are also concerned about the drug trade.
“No Canadian wants to live next door to a grow-op,” said Nicholson.
The justice minister went on to justify all of the bill’s measures and said the reforms send a message to criminals that they will be held accountable for their actions.
The Senate’s legal and constitutional affairs committee, as expected, amended the part of the bill that allows Canadians to sue perpetrators of terrorism, and their supporters, in Canadian courts.
The six amendments have been a source of some controversy because Liberal MP Irwin Cotler tried to propose similar ones when the bill was before the House of Commons justice committee. The Conservatives voted against the amendments and then tried to introduce virtually the same ones under their own name at the next stage of the bill.
The Conservatives found themselves accused of rejecting the amendments purely for partisan purposes. They voted against all amendments proposed by the Liberals and NDP.
The government was not allowed to introduce the terrorism-related amendments at the report stage, according to procedural rules, and instead had to bring them in when the bill landed in the Senate.
The bill as originally drafted allowed Canadians to sue proxy groups for terrorism, but not states themselves. That was changed in order to allow states to be held responsible. Other tweaks to language were also made.
Cotler said in a statement Tuesday that while he is glad the government adopted the terrorism-related measures, the bill is still a poor one.
The Liberals said the bill repeats the mistakes of “discredited American crime policy” because of the mandatory minimum sentences while straining federal-provincial relations.
“At the end of the day, C-10 will give us more crime and less justice, and at increased cost to taxpayers,” said Cotler.
The NDP also expressed its opposition to the safe streets act, calling it a “wrong-headed” approach to justice.
Senate urges alternative treatment options
The Senate report on the bill contained a number of recommendations based on testimony the committee heard from a range of witnesses. It said a consistent concern related to the challenges faced by the corrections system in dealing with offenders with mental illnesses.
The senators urged the government to consider alternative treatment options, particularly for female offenders who have a higher incidence of mental illness than male offenders. They also want attention paid to the over-representation of aboriginal Canadians in the justice system, both as offenders and victims.
The omnibus crime bill has nine major components to it that combined bills from previous sessions in Parliament that never passed. It makes significant changes to the justice and corrections systems, including the introduction of new mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug crimes, increasing maximum penalties for certain offences, restricting the use of conditional sentences, and changes to the youth criminal justice system.
The reforms are expected to increase the number of people behind bars. The provinces have balked at paying for the added costs for a federal piece of legislation.
The government has said the price tag for the legislation is worthwhile because the cost of crime to society exceeds the cost of enforcing the laws.
– Article from CBC News.
Crime bill poised to pass 10 days before Tories mark 100-day threshold
by Tobi Cohen, Postmedia News
After months of acrimonious debate, the controversial omnibus crime bill is poised to clear a final hurdle Wednesday before becoming law.
The Safe Streets and Communities Act returned to the House of Commons Tuesday for one last debate after several minor amendments were approved by the Senate in relation to the State Immunity Act and the ability of terrorism victims to sue their perpetrators.
The government promised to pass the bill within 100 sitting days of the 41st Parliament and Postmedia News has learned the final vote on C-10 is expected to happen late Wednesday, 10 days before the Harper Conservatives will mark that milestone.
Should all go as planned, it will also take place hours after Justice Minister Rob Nicholson joins former NHLer and child sex abuse victim Sheldon Kennedy in Woodbridge, Ont., for one final public relations splash.
The hockey star testified before a Senate committee last month in support of the bill’s provision for mandatory minimum sentences for child sex offenders.
Kennedy has become a victims’ advocate since coming forward with his own story of sexual assault. He and fellow NHLer Theoren Fleury were both abused by their junior hockey coach, Graham James, who pleaded guilty in December.
James will be sentenced later this month and Kennedy has raised concerns that his abuser may only get house arrest.
A hodgepodge of nine justice bills, most of which were defeated in previous Parliaments when the Conservatives were in minority, Bill C-10 also sets minimum mandatory sentences for drug trafficking and production, eliminates house arrest for a number of offences and cracks down on young offenders, Canadians imprisoned abroad and those seeking pardons.
Critics argue the cost of Bill C-10 will be enormous, that it favours incarceration over rehabilitation and reintegration and that it will lead to prison overcrowding. They’ve also slammed the Tories for pushing it through without sufficient debate, pointing to the 11th hour Senate amendments as proof. Liberal justice critic Irwin Cotler put forward similar amendments during a Commons committee review of the bill, but his ideas were ultimately ignored.
Meanwhile, NDP justice critic Jack Harris launched a one-man filibuster, of sorts, Tuesday in a final bid to reiterate his party’s concerns with the bill.
As the first member of the Opposition to address the Senate amendments, Harris had unlimited time to speak and took advantage of it for three hours Tuesday morning.
“I guess I’ll have to end at some point, but I’m not sure when,” Harris said after question period, noting he will continue speaking to the bill on Wednesday, but is unlikely to keep it up for 10 days in order to “throw (the Tories) off their agenda.”
That said, the Conservatives indicated late Tuesday that they would table a time allocation motion to limit further debate on Bill C-10.
– Article from Vancouver Sun.