Omnibus Crime Bill an Injustice

This fall the Harper government will pass an omnibus crime bill that will imprison thousands more Canadians and cost billions of dollars. It will not do as advertised by the Conservatives and drive the crime rate down. It will simply incarcerate for longer the many citizens who fall afoul of the new laws and mandatory minimum sentences.

The perverse results of some of the new legislation are already being documented. While the Harper government sells its new laws by saying they will punish violent, repeat offenders, it is clear that many non-violent, first-time offenders will bear the brunt of the legislation.

The most recent example is Bill C-59. This law repeals Accelerated Parole Review. APR used to be available to first-time, non-violent offenders serving time in federal prisons. It was a way of releasing them at 1/6 of their sentences if they were low-risk for reoffending and a good risk for reintegration into society. Now all of these offenders will have to undertake the full parole process, backing up the system, overcrowding prison cells, and ultimately making it impossible for most of these offenders to be released even at 1/3 of their sentence.

C-59 was an opportunistic and popular move by the Harper government to respond to the public, who were outraged that Earl Jones (the Ponzi fraudster) might qualify for release at 1/6 of his sentence. The victims of Mr. Jones’ frauds were vocal and influential, and Bill C-59 was the result.

Like much of Mr. Harper’s crime legislation, the law applies willy-nilly to many other offenders who should properly be released sooner rather than later. Thus we learn that, perversely, non-violent first-time women offenders have been the most affected by this law.

A year ago, there were about 500 women in the federal prison system. Now there are almost 600. That is an increase of 20% in one year. It costs $556 per DAY to keep a woman behind federal bars. Overcrowding results in the spread of disease, the heightening of tension, more violence, less access to programming and visiting rights. It is an extremely destructive method of accommodating prisoners.

The Harper government has drafted a large number of laws which will result in the same anomalous endgame, and no one is asking any questions. When Mr. Nicholson insists that his drug law is targeted at organized crime members selling drugs to children in the school yard, he is misrepresenting his own legislation. His drug law will capture large numbers of small players and people who have nothing to do with organized crime. They will be your young neighbours growing a few plants in the basement for sharing at a grad party. They will be people in pain who need marijuana for treatment purposes. They will most certainly not be vicious gang members, using guns to defend their turf.

It can be predicted with confidence that the omnibus bill will result in billions of dollars spent for no good purpose, a rising rate of violence and sickness in prisons, and a negative rather than a positive effect upon public safety.

Paula Mallea, B.A., M.A., Ll.B, practised criminal law for 15 years in Toronto, Kingston, and Manitoba. She acted mainly as defence counsel, with a part-time stint as prosecutor, and spent hundreds of hours in penitentiaries representing inmates. She is a Research Associate with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. She is the author of The Fear Factor: Stephen Harper’s Tough On Crime Agenda and Lorimer Publishing will be releasing her book on the tough-on-crime agenda this fall.

17 comments

  1. Thanks for this informative analysis Paula! Would it be possible to get a reference for your statement about the impact on first-time, non-violent women offenders? I’d like to explore this. Thanks!

  2. harpers plan to ‘americanize’ Canada continues unabated .. next, it will be privately owned prisons for profit ..

  3. How can we stop the harper machine? Honestly, what can we do? Talking to local mp’s does nothing. Striking does nothing. ten’s of thousands take to the streets to protest…nothing. What is left?

  4. To Laura:

    I was referring to an item in the Toronto Star quoting prison ombudsman Howard Sapers. (June 24/11).

    Paula

  5. To CCPA
    Thanks for your activism and important information. I am unhappy with the omnibus crime bill and many other moves of the Harper government. For me the bottom line is we don’t deserve this government because over 60% of voted against them. Where does CCPA stand on proportional representation? For me it is the top priority.

  6. Supporters of the SS(N)CMG philosophy will state that current costs of incarceration are excessive and unnecessary due to greedy public service unions and misguided social activists. Anyone who criticizes the measures they intend to take will be characterized as an elitist and the government will trot out Mr. Fantino with his “hug-a-thug” speech all over again and again and again. Even the direct costs of privatization will be unchallenged because, as we have been told, competition will produce efficiencies through magical means that are not able to be directly examined.
    The script has been written for years; it’s just been awaiting the right actors. The horror of it is that so many of these free market fundamentalists were trained at public expense.

  7. I believe that the herb marijuana should be decriminalized & it’s a crime that people are in jails for it…i don’t smoke anything but believe that “legal”cigarettes are more harmful to health…the more people that challenge this bill the more watered down it will get…just keep smoking it as i would if i used it…

  8. For anyone interested I have written quite a bit regarding Mandatory Minimum Sentencing, which the Cons are trying to push through in this Omnibus Bill. (MMS for Drugs, formerly Bills S-10, C-15) A few posts are:
    “Con Job! Tories Ignore Justice Department Reports” http://maryjanecannabian.blogspot.com/2011/02/con-job-tories-ignore-justice.html
    and “MP Shelly Glover is Not4Me!” http://maryjanecannabian.blogspot.com/2010/11/shelly-glover-is-not4me.html

    And just an FYI, “drug trafficking” is also sharing a joint, so if a 19 yr. old passes a joint with a 17 yr. old anywhere near where minors meet (that’s pretty much EVERYWHERE in Canada except bars that serve alcohol) they will be sentenced to TWO years in prison, and judges will have absolutely no choice, no discretion and will have to hand out this sentence.

    “As for the jails, who will fill them? she asked. “Is it a case of build it and they will come?”
    She suspects what they’ll do to fill those jails is just lower the criminal bar so they will have enough people to fill the jails. And then they can say,
    we told you so.” ~ Margaret Atwood, Atwood launches assault on gov’t with razor-sharp wit

  9. I think that as it applies to early parole, a judge determined the length of the sentence after educated deliberation. It is criminally shortsighted to tally costs of incarceration as a result of being tougher on offenders. Consider the avoided costs of the thefts, rapes, assaults, murders etc possibly committed by these offenders because they weren’t out jail yet. All of which accrue court and enforcement burdens. think of the emotional and financial impact of thousands of additional victims that may be avoided.

    We have tried the preventative route, and some of those strategies work, but the laws have favored the criminals for too long and we do the ultimate disservice to the law-abiding and the victims by treating offenders better than them.

    I favor the political center as you all do but you can’t be stubborn. Our system is not working as it should. When something doesn’t work, you make changes to improve it. Call it progress. We need to analyse what were doing and not fear change. Remember, Karla Holmolka is married and has had kids of her own, enjoying a new life in Montreal after raping and murdering her own sister, Clifford Olsen faxes taunting letters to parents of children he tortured and killed because he has rights under Trudeau’s policies. Gang members spray bullets in our cities while I will spend my life in jail if I use a firearm to stop someone from randomly killing you. The law right now mandates that I watch you be killed and call 911.

    Think about these things before you give in to meaningless political policy babble.

  10. I can`t speak freely anymore thanks to Harper.
    Most of my friends are afraid of being put on a government list if they speak against the current regime.
    Harper is ignoring the Charter in order to turn us into a Police State like the one nearby with the highest incarceration rate in the world.
    These could be the last free days on the internet … free of government espionage on its`own citizens.
    Check out openmedia.ca

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