Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Conservative crime bill will punish poverty; change country

I gave the following speech in the House of Commons on Tuesday, Nov. 29th, against Bill C-10, the Conservative omnibus crime bill.

Mr. Speaker, I stand in the House today in opposition to Bill C-10, the omnibus crime bill.

As I stated in a September speech in this House, I do not stand in opposition to every part of the bill. Indeed, some parts of Bill C-10 are worthwhile.

As a father, I have no objection to protecting children against pedophiles and sexual predators, of course not, even though the Conservative government would have people believe otherwise. That is the rub with Bill C-10, which throws so many pieces of legislation, nine bills, aboard the one bus, aboard the one omnibus bill.

I may agree with coming down hard on pedophiles, but I do not agree with filling prisons with people who probably should not be there, like the student who gets caught with six marijuana plants. What will throwing that student in jail do for him or her, or for society in general besides costing us a fortune in new human cages? My answer is nothing. It will do absolutely nothing.

Steve Sullivan, an advocate for victims of crime for almost two decades, wrote a piece earlier this month for the National Post. A particular quote stuck with me. He wrote:

Few of us lose sleep over child-sex offenders spending more time in prison. But some of the reforms will toughen the sentences for low-risk offenders, with low rates of recidivism. They won’t make children safer, but will cost five times more than what is being invested in Child Advocacy Centres that support abused children.

Bill C-10 is also known as the safe streets and communities act, but mandatory minimum sentences are not so much tough on crime as tough on Canadians suffering from mental illness, addictions and poverty. In fact, poverty will be punished even more than it is now. The bill targets youth for harsher punishments and will put more aboriginal people in prison.

One of the pillars of the omnibus crime bill is mandatory minimum sentences. The Conservative omnibus bill will dramatically expand mandatory minimum sentences, limiting judicial discretion to levels unseen before.

Experts say taking away discretion from judges clogs up the judicial system. That is not all that it will clog up. The provinces, in particular, are rebelling against this new crime bill. They charge it will clog up the prison system. The provinces say it will put increasing pressure on a prison system that is practically busting at the seams.

Experts say the omnibus crime bill will increase the country's prison population by untold thousands. As for the cost of housing that many more inmates, estimates range up to $5 billion a year. That is more than double the current expenditures for the corrections system alone. And that is a conservative estimate, not a Conservative government estimate. The Conservative government has not put a price on the omnibus crime bill, which makes no sense.

Yesterday, I stood in this House and debated the bill to kill the Canadian Wheat Board, which ended up passing even though the Conservative government failed to carry out a cost-benefit analysis. How is that good governance, good fiscal governance, in these scary unpredictable times? I do not get it. Canadians do not get it.

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty has warned the Conservative government that provinces across the country will not pick up the tab for any new costs associated with the omnibus crime bill. Quebec has essentially said the same thing.

In my home province of Newfoundland and Labrador, the main prison is Her Majesty's Penitentiary in my riding of St. John's South-Mount Pearl. Her Majesty's Penitentiary dates back to Victorian times. The original stone building first opened in 1859. The Pen is an aging fortress that has been called an appalling throwback to 19th century justice, which sounds like Bill C-10.

Felix Collins, the Progressive Conservative justice minister for Newfoundland and Labrador, has had this to say about the omnibus crime bill:

Most groups, most experts and most witnesses who have given presentations on this bill would advocate that the federal government is proceeding in the wrong direction, and that this procedure has been tried in other areas before and has proven to be a failure. Incarcerating more people is not the answer.

That quote pretty well sums it up. When Felix Collins, Newfoundland and Labrador's justice minister, speaks about the procedure being tried in other jurisdictions and failing in other jurisdictions, he is probably talking about Texas. Conservative Texas has warned us not to follow a failed fill-in-the-prison approach to justice.

The Canadian Bar Association, representing 37,000 Canadian legal professionals, has said the bill would, ”move Canada along a road that has failed in other countries, at a great expense.”

The Vancouver Sun ran a story yesterday with the headline, “Conservative crime bill is a costly mistake for Canada”.

The story reads:

When Canada has some of the safest streets and communities in the world and a declining crime rate, why is [the] Prime Minister, pushing his omnibus crime bill through in such a machiavellian way? Many jurisdictions, including Texas and California, have warned this crime agenda not only doesn't work, but it doesn't make economic sense. Costing roughly $100,000 per year to incarcerate a person, mandatory sentences will raise taxes, increase debt, or force us to cut spending on essential programs like health and education. Bill C-10 arrogantly ignores proven facts from decades of research and experience.

Again, that about sums it up.

This is a quote I received from a constituent:

Who is helped by having a student, a future doctor or engineer, thrown in jail for a year and a half because they decided to make some hash for their own personal use? In what universe does that make sense? Stop wasting money on cages and start spending it on hospital beds and textbooks.

The line that sticks is, “Stop wasting money on cages and start spending it on hospital beds and textbooks.”

If the omnibus crime bill goes through, provinces like Newfoundland and Labrador will have less money to spend on health and education, let alone rehabilitation and preventative programs.

I will quote from an editorial in the St. John's Telegram, the daily newspaper where I come from. It states:

The provinces have been raising two kinds of concerns: one is that tough-on-crime laws don’t actually achieve their stated ends, because rehabilitation actually decreases crime rates in a way that longer incarceration does not. The second concern is far more pragmatic: while the federal government is making laws that extend prison terms, it doesn’t seem to be in any rush to help with the additional anticipated provincial costs connected to longer jail sentences and increased court time (increased court time, because it will be less attractive for criminals to plead guilty at early stages in a prosecution).

Who will say they are guilty if they know that “mandatory minimum” means they will definitely be going to prison?

Bill C-10 will not make Canada a better place to live. It will change Canada. It will change how we see ourselves as Newfoundlanders and Labradorians and Canadians and how we are seen on the world stage.

Thank you.

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