Soft on truth, not tough on crime
NationalPost.com – Opinion
Wednesday, March 3, 2010. James Cowan
I was disappointed to see Justice Minister Rob Nicholson use the pages of the National Post to accuse Liberal Senators of erecting “significant hurdles” to the Harper government’s Truth in Sentencing Act ( “An important step to a safer Canada,” Feb. 23).
The fact of the matter is that this bill spent 36 days in the House of Commons, and only 19 days in the Senate — during which it was studied in committee, debated, passed without any amendments on Oct. 21, 2009, and received Royal Assent the next day, on Oct. 22.
But the Harper government then chose to delay bringing the act into force, waiting an additional four months after the bill was passed by Parliament before making it effective on Feb. 22, 2010.
Yet Mr. Nicholson persists in misleading Canadians and trying to blame the Liberal senators for obstructing the government’s “law and order” agenda.
In fact, of the 21 law-and-order bills introduced by this government, 18 died on the Order Paper because Stephen Harper decided to prorogue Parliament. Three had passed all stages in both houses of Parliament and received Royal Assent. However, in all three cases, the government delayed bringing them into force.
Indeed, an honest examination of the record compels one to acknowledge that the greatest delays to implementation of the government’s justice agenda resulted from the government’s own actions — sitting on bills and not bringing them forward for debate, delaying bringing legislation into force, and ultimately, of course, shutting down Parliament.
Here are the facts, so that Canadians can judge for themselves.
The Harper government introduced 21 justice bills. Of the five that passed the House of Commons and came to the Senate:
– Two passed the Senate without amendment.
– One (the so-called Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime bill) was tabled in the Senate in November, but not brought forward by the government for any further action after that. It died with prorogation.
– One bill was passed with four amendments and returned to the House of Commons, which did not deal with it before Parliament was prorogued.
– One was being studied in committee when Parliament was prorogued, at which time all committee work shut down.
There were also two justice bills that the government chose to initiate in the Senate. One was passed by the Senate after 14 days. The other was tabled in the Senate on April 1, but the government chose not to bring it forward even for debate after that. It died with prorogation.
As I wrote to Minister Nicholson in a letter of Feb. 4, where I laid out these facts: “Comparing the numbers, Canadians would have to conclude that it is the Harper Conservatives who have chosen to obstruct law and order bills — while shamelessly trying to smear the Liberals and the Senate with the blame.”
It is difficult to take a law-and-order agenda seriously when it is argued with so little respect for facts. Justice above all depends upon truth. As our country’s Minister of Justice, Mr. Nicholson’s first allegiance must always be to the truth, far beyond any political or partisan gamesmanship. Our system of justice depends upon it.
In his National Post op-ed, Minister Nicholson said, “Canadians lose faith in the criminal justice system when they feel that the punishment does not fit the crime.” I believe Canadians’ faith in the criminal justice system is even more seriously undermined when the person responsible for that system– the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of Canada — is prepared to play fast and loose with the truth.
Canadians deserve the truth. They expect it from their government — and above all, from their Minister of Justice.
– Senator James Cowan, a Liberal, is Leader of the Opposition in the Senate.
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