Lawyers are delightful people…seriously! I’m not just saying that because I’m a member of the legal fraternity. They love esoteric debate and understand our laws better than most Canadians. And when they get riled up they take it to the streets—well, the virtual streets of the internet.
This fall 37,000 lawyers represented by the Canadian Bar Association (CBA) marshalled their knowledge and experience to critique Bill C-10, Harper’s Omnibus Crime Bill. This Bill bears the innocuous moniker, the Safe Street and Communities Act. Rather ironic, if not downright misleading, considering that Canada already has the safest streets and communities in the world and our crime rates are dropping not rising.
Bill C-10 is a mishmash of 9 different bills covering a range of proposals including at-risk youth, victims of terrorism, immigrant and refugee protection and the elimination of judicial discretion in sentencing. The CBA analyzed over 150 pages of legislation. Not an easy task considering that some of these proposals had surfaced in earlier bills, were commented on, changed and then resurrected in their original flawed form in Bill C- 10.
As a result of its analysis the CBA had no choice but to express its “serious concerns” (legalese for OMG!!!) in a 100 page submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights—twice.
The CBA also published a 2 pager setting out 10 reasons to oppose the Bill.
The CBA’s “serious concerns” fall into two baskets: process and substance (which pretty much covers the waterfront).
The process concerns were driven by Harper’s pre-election promise to deliver a tough crime bill within 100 days of being in power. He’s done that. He’s also trampled the democratic process embedded in parliamentary review. For example there is absolutely no evidence to support the need for this Bill. Crime rates and severity are at record low levels, with murder rates at their lowest point since the mid 1960s. Canadians know this—93% of them report feeling safe from crime.
But the Government was not interested in hearing the evidence. Lawyers, jurists and other experts were not given enough time to properly review the 150 page Bill. All that appears in the section dealing with offences against children is this poignant sentence: “We have not prepared comments on this part of the Bill”. Neither was the CBA given sufficient time to present its views to the Parliamentary Committee–experts were routinely cut off in mid-sentence 5 minutes into their presentations.
All the while Harper’s PR department was on “full spin” cycle, busily dishing out half truths to ratchet up the politics of fear and market the idea that Harper had delivered on his pre-election promise. Unfortunately the Bill’s overreach and overreaction to a non-existent problem will create the very problems it is supposed to solve.
Here’s why. The focus of Bill C-10 is retribution and punishment as opposed to prevention and rehabilitation. It is based on the premise that longer incarceration and enhanced disciplinary powers in the hands of prison guards will magically deter the criminally inclined from committing crimes or re-offending. Furthermore, the Bill signals a lack of trust in the judiciary by severely constricting the judges’ discretionary powers in sentencing. The end result is more prisons to house more inmates at greater cost to the taxpayer.
The saddest indictment of Bill C-10 is that this heavy handed approach was tried in California and Texas—and failed. These jurisdictions are now on “course correction” having realized that retribution and punishment costs too much and makes the justice system worse, not better. And yet Canada is plunging headlong down a path already proven to be disastrous.
As an aside, even Chief Dale McFee, the head of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, recognizes the need for balance: “When we’re dealing with serious crime, there’s quite frankly some people that need to go to jail but there’s also a lot of people (for whom) early intervention and prevention will go a long ways and save lots of money and obviously be more efficient in achieving the results at that end.”*
Bill C-10 has already cleared the House and is on its way to the Senate. Is it too late to do something about it?
It’s never too late to stand up for the democratic process and a well balanced justice system. Take a look at the recent Alberta experience with Bill 26, which introduced stiffer penalties for drivers caught between .05 and .08 blood alcohol levels. Bill 26 was rammed through the House by the majority PC government, but extremely negative feedback from the general public and restaurant and pub owners directly to their PC MLAs resulted in Premier Redford delaying the implementation of Bill 26 until next summer. There will be an election between now and then, many new players will join the Legislature. Who knows what might happen.
“What do you get when 37,000 lawyers are agitated?” is not the start of a lawyer joke. It’s an act of political activism. The CBA needs our help. Here’s what you can do. Go to the CBA President’s letter on the CBA website. Follow the trail to your MP and the Prime Minister. Tell them that the Government failed to respect the democratic process when it passed Bill C–10 and the implementation of the Bill should be held in abeyance until all parties have an opportunity to give it due consideration.
Let’s face it, if 37,000 stogy old lawyers can become political activists, so can you.
*CTV On-line Dec 6, 2011.
Interesting post this week. Just so you know I have contacted my MP and I have emailed the president of the Canadian Bar Association has it was suggested in the letter. I did it because I do not agree at all with these shock and awe bills that are rushed through the House as fast as possible to avoid any debate or improvement. This is not a Conservative only process but they certainly enjoy it way more than all other parties together. They are so obcessed with their ideology that cannot see anything more than 1 foot away from their faces.
I also have to say that I did contact my MP simply because I do not agree with the process. Despite the fact that I am without a doubt a Progressive, I cannot stand the obvious neglect of our so called ‘Justice System’ especially by the Liberals and many lawyers in this country that financially benefit a lot from a process that in many instances is a pure joke.
At first I did not want to make a comment because I do not like to offend people at all, but I also cannot violate my own principles of saying what I really believe. Lawyers in the Western World have created a ‘Justice Industry’ rather than a ‘Justice System’ and although I am not going to get into details I would like to say that in many cases I do not agree with their suggestions of how crime should be dealt with. There are many cases where preventation and treatment will work but other cases it is a lost cause and we all know that and the abuses are pathetic by the criminals and the lawyers that represent them. Olson’s case is one of them. I remember being in Libya in 1986 working with a group of other Canadians and British citizens and in a debate with Libyan engineers a Canadian called the rule of law in Libya to be a joke and medieval. One of the Libyan Engineers enraged replied that yes their system was outdated but at least they did not pay their criminals 90 thousand dollars to find out where the bodies were and they did not allow their criminals to watch porno movies in jail. I believe I do not need to comment on this.
Carlos, thanks for following up with your MP on the democratic process issue. You’re right when you say that the practice of rushing legislation through the House is not just a Conservative tactic. The Liberals were also very good at it when they held a majority. Nevertheless, we need to keep the pressure on our MPs so that they realize that we’re not going to put up with this slapdash approach to law making any longer. That’s not to say that I’m in favour of endless debate in the House, but a reasonable level of thoughtful debate is required and expected.
With respect to your final comments, clearly you’ve had an opportunity to compare the merits and shortcomings of our justice system with those in other jurisdictions. This is a very difficult topic, especially over a blog, so let’s leave it for another day. Thanks again.
Susan you are absolutely right about the difficulty of discussing the justice system over a blog.
Thank you for your reply.
another EXCELLENT post. I agree with you entirely. We are a country of compassion and fairness, not anger and retribution. Even Conrad Black has weighed in on this bill and its wrongheadedness, and he should know – he is a guest of the US government in a system we look like we are trying to emulate.
Thank you for highlighting this.
Thanks Sheila. Being the optimist that I am, I’m hopeful that if enough of us bang away on our MPs they’ll come to the conclusion that the people won’t roll over on this one and the Bill needs further consideration. It never hurts to try!