In opposition to the Conservative’s transformational C-10 omnibus crime bill, Quebec, Ontario and Newfoundland are refusing to take on the costs associated with the bill. British Columbia and Manitoba are similarly concerned about the costs of the federal legislation, asking for a full-accounting of the bill’s provisions and cost-sharing agreements with the federal government. While the costs of implementing the Tories’ crime bill should be considered merely one reason in a long list to oppose this legislation, at least these provinces recognize that the burden of Harper’s draconian crime legislation will fall largely upon themselves. Indeed, the John Howard Society of Manitoba estimates that three-fourths of the increased costs resulting from Bill C-10 will be borne by the provinces.
Curiously absent from this debate between the provinces and the federal government is our freshly re-elected Premier of Saskatchewan, Brad Wall. During the election campaign, Wall expressed his support for the Tories “tough-on-crime” approach despite the extra costs expected to be borne by the province, stating “we’re not going to oppose what we think is good legislation on the basis of this particular issue. We like the changes to two-for-one remand, we like what’s happening in the omnibus bill.”
Brad Wall and his Saskatchewan Party government prides itself on being “above ideology,” constantly portraying his government as pragmatists who only believe in “common-sense” policy “that works.”
Wall’s pragmatism is certainly going to be tested if he thinks that Bill C-10 represents a crime policy “that works.” Virtually every expert body on criminal policy in the country has excoriated the crime bill, remarking that it’s provisions run contrary to all the available evidence of how to successfully reduce crime. CCPA Research Associate Paula Mallea, who has meticulously dismantled almost every rationale for the bill, notes that even expert sources within the government consider this legislation to be fatally flawed.
Saskatchewan should be particularly concerned in regards to this legislation because of the certain impact it will have on Aboriginal peoples in the province. Saskatchewan has the dubious honour of one of the highest Aboriginal incarceration rates in the country, with Aboriginal offenders constituting over 80% of the prison population despite representing only 11% of the provincial population. Bill C-10 is sure to exacerbate this already shameful trend. The institution of mandatory minimum sentences and the elimination of judicial discretion for a host of minor crimes will drive Aboriginal incarceration rates even higher and eliminate the efforts towards reducing recidivism through conditional and alternative sentencing arrangements that have been experimented within the province over the previous decade.
Recognizing the systemic racism and discrimination faced by Aboriginal peoples within the Canadian criminal justice system, the Supreme Court of Canada in its Gladue Decision directed judges to consider sentencing alternatives for aboriginal offenders. Bill C-10 is in direct violation of this decision, as it removes any discretion by judges to consider extenuating and motivating factors when sentencing offenders.
As the Premier of Saskatchewan, Brad Wall has a duty to protect the Aboriginal citizens of this province and defend them against what may be potentially unconstitutional provisions within the federal crime bill. Furthermore, if Brad Wall really believes in policies that truly “work,” he should stridently oppose Bill C-10 based on all the available evidence that clearly shows this bill will not work for the people of Saskatchewan.
Simon Enoch is Director of the Saskatchewan Office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.