Tories use majority to pass omnibus crime bill
NationalPost.com – news
Mar 12, 2012. By Tobi Cohen, Ottawa
The Conservatives have used their majority to pass the so-called omnibus crime bill within the first 100 sitting days of Parliament as promised, despite continued opposition from Canada’s largest provinces which vowed Monday not to sit back idly as the measures come into force.
The deeply polarizing Safe Streets and Communities Act, which passed by a vote of 154 to 129, effectively will become law in a matter of hours, if not days, when the bill receives royal assent. The Tories will mark their 100 day milestone on Friday.
“These are very reasonable measures. They go after those who sexually exploit children, people in the child pornography business and it goes after drug traffickers,” Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said hours before the final vote.
“This will be welcomed, particularly by victims, those involved with law enforcement and, as we know, Canadians are supportive of what we are doing in this area.”
While critics fear the bill will have little impact on reducing crime and may even harden some offenders, Nicholson offered little about how the success of the bill might be measured.
“We have a number of strategies,” Nicholson said. “But, again, this sends the message out to people (that) if you get involved with this kind of activity, there will be consequences.”
As per his promise to the provinces, Nicholson said the implementation of the various aspects of legislation will be “spaced out” over a period of time, though it seemed to provide little comfort to his regional counterparts.
Ontario Community Safety and Correctional Services Minister Madeleine Meilleur said in a statement Monday that: “Ontario taxpayers cannot be expected to pay the full costs for federal anti-crime initiatives” which the province has pegged at more than $1 billion.
Ontario anticipates the bill will result in an additional 1,500 inmates and will require the construction of a 1,000 bed facility to accommodate them. The province, she added, is already looking forward to opening two new facilities in Toronto and Windsor to replace older jails, but that initiative never anticipated the impact of the omnibus crime bill.
“With the opening of the two new state-of-the-art facilities . . . we have taken appropriate steps to address Ontario’s future inmate capacity needs,” she said.
“We expect Ottawa to do what’s right and provide additional funding to help Ontario deal with the consequences of Bill C-10.”
She called on Ottawa to create a federal-provincial task force to discuss the impact of the legislation and to explore solutions. If a suitable agreement to help defray the costs isn’t found, Meilleur said Ontario may look at other options, including reviewing its current custodial service agreements with the federal government.
The Quebec government, which has been among the most vocal critics of the bill, also was quick to express its disappointment Monday.
“We would have preferred Parliament accept the amendments put forward by the Quebec government in conjunction with a number of organizations,” Quebec Justice Minister Jean-Marc Fournier said in a statement.
The amendments were brought forward by Quebec last fall in a bid to address its concerns about C-10’s impact on youth rehabilitation programs. Fournier left Ottawa fuming last November after his request went nowhere.
While the province supports a number of the provisions contained in C-10, he said the bill as a whole “harms” the province’s prevention and reintegration programs.
He said his government would unveil Tuesday new measures to combat recidivism.
“As the attorney general, it is my responsibility to apply criminal laws but it’s also my responsibility to safeguard the public and prevent recidivism,” he said.
Quebec has estimated the new measures would cost the province $600 million and also has vowed not to pay for it.
The final vote on C-10 was to take place last week but the NDP employed a series of procedural delaying tactics, including trying to adjourn the House of Commons, which saw the vote pushed back to Monday.
Justice critic Jack Harris made no apology for stalling the bill, which does far more than target child sex offenders.
Had the Tories broken the bill up into bite-sized pieces, Harris said the official Opposition would have been happy to support elements related to mandatory minimums for child sex offenders.
“They refused to do that and, you know, the contentious parts of the bill are still there,” he said. “We think it will lead to more punishment but not safer streets, not a deterrence against criminals and in fact there will be more victims, more crimes and less safety on our streets.”
Comprised of nine bills, many of which failed to pass in previous Parliaments when the Conservatives had a minority, C-10 also cracks down on pot producers, young offenders, Canadians imprisoned abroad who are seeking a transfer to a Canadian institution and ex-cons seeking a pardon.
It also provides for victims of terrorism who are seeking to sue the perpetrator and eliminates house arrest for a number of different crimes, something Canada’s budget watchdog estimated will cost the provinces $145 million a year.
The government has been coy about the overall cost to the provinces and has insisted the entire Safe Streets and Communities Act will run the federal government $78.6 million over five years.
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