Canada: Deciphering Harper's crime bill
Barry Artiste, Now Public Contributor
Opposition Liberals have repeatedly tried to stop this Crime Bill coming into Law, and fearing Prime Minister's Harpers Conservatives threats of calling a general election if the Liberals stall his bill any longer have reluctantly sat on their hands. This Crime Bill by some is a Crime Bill whose time has come, Let's hope Judges who pass judgement get with the program don't screw it up and ensure the Time fits the Crime outlined by this proposed Crime Bill, because if they do Prosecutors have the right to remind Judges of mandatory sentences, just in case the Judge has a lapse of memory.
Anti Crime Advocates and Victims Rights Groups may feel this bill may not go far enough, while criminal defence lawyers feel this Crime Bill is too tough. One side the victims, the other side Defence lawyers who make a living defending criminals may feel this Bill written in Stone with mandatory sentencing will severely limit their Lawyer fees, reduce the chances of repeated appeals, thereby reducing their livlihood to make money if Judges state on the outset that their hands are tied and hence can no longer accept plea bargaining for reduced sentencing on behalf of the criminal defence lawyers.
My Final Thought
The only people against this Crime Bill are the criminal element themselves, as law abiding citizens have nothing to fear.
Prison terms for drugged-up drivers, mandatory five-year sentences for serious gun crimes, and automatic "dangerous offender" status for anyone convicted of three violent or sexual offences are among key elements of the federal government's expansive new crime legislation, expected to become a centrepiece of the Conservatives' re-election strategy.
"This is a national priority," Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said Thursday in unveiling the package, called the Tackling Violent Crime Act, or Bill C-2. "Canadians want action on crime now, and that's what we aim to deliver."
The bill is a compendium of five separate bills first introduced by the Conservative government in 2006.
None had been passed into law when Prime Minister Stephen Harper decided in July to prorogue Parliament and open a new session in fall, thereby killing all unfinished bills.
Now the crime package is back, combined in a complex, 53-page document containing hundreds of amendments to the Criminal Code that are designed to shift some of the focus from rehabilitation to retribution.
"We want to get the message out," Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day said, "that we want to focus on the rights of victims."
In addition to the tougher penalties, the bill would also allow police to demand roadside sobriety tests and body-fluid samples from drivers suspected of drug impairment.
Although legal analysts said Thursday it will take time to digest and understand the full scope of the new bill, they cautioned that the government's renewed efforts to toughen the rules for violent, repeat offenders and to fight crime through higher jail terms may not pay off in the long run.
Greg DelBigio, a Vancouver lawyer who chairs the Canadian Bar Association's criminal justice section, said new provisions transferring the onus of proof -- for bail and for avoiding dangerous offender designation -- onto accused people may run afoul of the Constitution, and therefore prompt legal challenges.
"Whenever there is a shifting of onus onto the accused, there is the potential for a Charter of Rights violation," he said.
"It's certainly the kind of situation in which alarm bells go off."
Irving Kulik, executive director of the Canadian Criminal Justice Association, a public education group of police, lawyers and corrections workers, said the government's focus on mandatory minimum sentences would likely tie the hands of judges.
"We recognize the government's desire to respond to the concerns of citizens," Kulik said, "but we shouldn't handcuff judges based on mandatory sentences."
"There are different circumstances in every case, and that's why we have trials and why the Criminal Code allows a judge to use his discretion in sentencing. Otherwise, what do you need judges for?"
THE CRIMINAL CODE: FROM REHABILITATION TO RETRIBUTION
Some of the changes that Bill C-2, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's new anti-crime bill, would impose on the justice system include:
Guns and gangs
- The bill would increase mandatory minimum prison terms for serious gun crimes committed by gang members from the current four years to five for a first offence and seven for a second offence. It would also increase the minimum sentence for trafficking and smuggling guns from the current minimum of one year to three for a first offence and five for a second.
Guns and bail
- People charged with serious crimes involving guns would automatically be locked up while awaiting trial, unless they could convince a judge they deserve bail. The onus for keeping accused people in jail now falls on prosecutors; this bill would shift the onus on the accused to obtain bail.
The most severe punishment in the Criminal Code comes with an indefinite-to-life prison sentence and permanent monitoring if parole is granted.
The bill would automatically impose a "dangerous offender" designation on someone convicted of three violent or sexual crimes, unless they could convince a court why they don't deserve such status.
Moreover, the onus for seeking dangerous offender status now falls on prosecutors; under the bill, the onus for avoiding it would fall to the accused.
- The bill would increase the age of consensual, non-exploitative sexual activity from 14 to 16, a change designed to deter and convict adult predators.
Drink, drugs and driving:
- The bill would raise the minimum fines for impaired driving from $600 now to $1,000 for a first offence. For a second offence, the minimum jail time would be doubled from the current 14 days to 30, and from 90 days to 120 days for third offences.