Canada’s Omnibus Crime Bill Impacts Criminal Justice System

OTTAWA, Ontario — Anticrime legislation in Canada could result in a surge of inmates entering its prison facilities.

The new Safe Streets and Communities Act combines nine crime bills that died during the previous parliamentary session into one omnibus piece of legislation. Now that the

Conservative party of Canada’s government has a majority in the House of Commons, it hopes to pass the act within the first 100 sitting days of Parliament. The comprehensive legislation ends house arrest for serious offenses and imposes harsher minimum sentences for drug offenses.

In September, the Honourable Rob Nicholson, P.C., Q.C., M.P. for Niagara Falls, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada introduced the Safe Streets and Communities Act.

“I am proud today to announce that our Government has fulfilled its commitment to Canadians to bring forward legislation to make our streets, families, and communities safer,” Minister Nicholson said in a statement. “We campaigned on a promise to get tough on child sexual offenders, crack down on illegal drug trafficking, and improve the overall efficiency of our judicial system. Canadians gave us a strong mandate to bring forward these reforms.”

Critics of Prime Minister Harper’s tough-on-crime agenda argue that the act pays insufficient attention to rehabilitative programs, is extremely expensive, and will overburden the provinces and territories that are responsible for implementing federal policy. Paula Mallea, author of the book The Fear Factor, Stephen Harper’s “Tough On Crime Agenda” to be released this fall, states that up to 80 to 90 percent of offenders in some institutions are addicts, mostly to alcohol, and up to 40 percent suffer from mental illness. Aboriginal people make up a large proportion of the jailed population, she states.

Costs High but Uncertain

The Conservatives estimate the cost of the omnibus crime bill at $78.6 million over five years, but the opposition says a figure is unrealistic.

Only two of the nine components of the legislation come with added costs, according to the government’s figures. Increased penalties for drug crimes are estimated to cost $67.7 million over five years because of higher prison populations, and new mandatory minimum sentences for sexual offences are expected to cost $10.9 million over two years with additional funding to be approved after that.

The government’s figures also indicate that the crime bills already passed by Parliament are estimated to cost $2.5 billion over five years. Those measures, combined with the omnibus bill, bring the total to $2.7 billion over five years.

Parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page is studying the omnibus crime bill and trying to come up with his own estimate of its price tag. He said he thinks it will exceed $3 billion but cautioned he had yet to do his analysis.
Nine Components to Act

The Safe Streets and Communities Act reintroduces the following reforms, which were debated by Parliament during the previous session but never became law:

• 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”) to five years for summary conviction offences and 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.