On September 20, Justice Minister Robert Nicholson tabled the much anticipated Safe Streets and Communities Act, which bundles nine pieces of legislation from past sessions of Parliament together into a single omnibus bill. While this bill includes many core components of the government’s criminal law agenda, further enhancements of police powers are also expected to be proposed in forthcoming legislation.
In the CCLA’s view, the bill proposes some welcome changes, including requiring the Parole Board of Canada to provide annual statistics relating to record suspensions (which replace pardons for some offences) and empowering victims of terrorism to seek redress for loss and damage resulting from a terrorist act.
Other provisions of the bill, however, are quite damaging and have no place in Canadian criminal law. For example, the bill would authorize police to arrest offenders who “appear” to be breaching their release conditions, without having to obtain a warrant. This is a dangerous precedent. Increases in arrest powers should be accompanied by corresponding enhancements in accountability measures. Such measures are sorely lacking in this bill.
The bill would also increase the range of offences for which mandatory jail time is required. For example, production of as little as six marijuana plants would result in a jail sentence of at least six months. This is a flawed approach to drug offences. Mandatory minimum sentences for drug
crimes have not worked elsewhere and there is no reason to believe that they will work in Canada.
The CCLA is also concerned about the increased bureaucratization of the criminal justice system. This bill would make it more likely that individuals would be involved with the justice system for many years, rather than being reintegrated in society after serving their sentences. The combination of more minimum sentences and less pardons increases the likelihood that offenders could be caught in a vicious, and difficult to escape, cycle of criminality.
Finally, the CCLA is concerned about both the short-term and long-term costs of putting more people in jail, particularly in light of the increasing overrepresentation of
aboriginal Canadians and offenders with mental health and addiction problems in Canadian prisons. Given the many problems raised by this bill, the CCLA believes that it should be significantly amended if it is to become law.