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Contentious federal bill to tackle drugs, crime

Omnibus bill 'flies in the face of evidence': opposition parties

Bob Rae says the Liberals will reopen the debate on decriminalization of marijuana. Credit: Promotional photo
The Conservative government’s “tough on crime” omnibus bill – a combination of nine pieces of legislation introduced in previous parliaments – ignores recent crime statistics and will result in overcrowded prisons, opposition parties say.
 
The 110-page bill, tabled in Parliament on Sept 20, is the first indication Conservatives are preparing to follow through on campaign promises to fight crime.
 
The bill will make it easier for police and courts to prosecute drug traffickers, repeat young offenders and sex offenders, putting them away for longer sentences.
 
However, opposition parties say recent statistics show crime is at its lowest level in years and the country should be spending money on more important issues.
 
“The government talks a good game about being interested in the economy, but it’s clear from their parliamentary agenda that the Reform Party is alive and well,” says interim Liberal leader Bob Rae.
 
Both the Liberals and NDP are opposed to the bill, especially its provisions for mandatory minimum sentences for marijuana possession.
 
Catherine Latimer of the John Howard Society of Canada also expressed concerns that it will create more overcrowding in federal penitentiaries.
 
Rae says the Liberals plan to battle the Conservatives on the issue.
 
“We do not believe it is a crime prevention agenda, we don’t believe it’s an increased public safety agenda, and we don’t think it will withstand public scrutiny,” he says, noting that the government has ignored mental health and addictions with relation to crime, the failure of the war on drugs, and the disproportionate impact on aboriginals in the correctional system.
 
“Do we really think this is the time, when we’re facing the issues that we’re facing in Canada, for us to be spending additional hundreds of millions of dollars in sending kids to jail because they’ve got six marijuana plants in their house?” Rae asks. “This is truly stupid as a policy. It makes absolutely no sense.”
 
Rae says the Liberals want to reopen the issue of decriminalization of marijuana while looking at the causes of addiction.
 
Although many had expected the bill would resurrect lapsed anti-terror laws and follow through on promises to attain “lawful access” to wireless and internet, these provisions were not included. 
 
While NDP justice critic Joe Comartin credits the government for listening to the concerns of provincial prosecutors around provisions related to young offenders, he says Justice Minister Rob Nicholson is ignoring statistics.
 
“The reality is that crime is going down,” Comartin says. “The better way to bring crime down is to prevent it from happening… the ideological bent that punishment will deter crime flies in the face of all the evidence. Prevention works – deterrence does not.”