Even as the Tory’s draconian omnibus crime bill approaches the critical vote in the Conservative-dominated Senate, Canadians must still hope that sanity will prevail.
The Senate, though unelected and dominated by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s acquiescing appointees, can still give the bill the sober second thought it desperately deserves. In fact, it can altogether kill crime Bill C-10.
Canadian legislative history tells us so. It debunks the myth that an unelected Senate will not easily kill a bill passed by the elected House of Commons.
In January 1991, the Senate rejected the Mulroney Conservative government’s Bill C-43, which sought to re-criminalize abortion. In late 2010, the Senate torpedoed the NDP’s landmark Bill C-311, the Climate Change Accountability Act, which had been approved by our elected reps.
The Senate’s reputation is also at stake here. In the immortal words of Stephen Harper, our legislature’s upper chamber is “a dumping ground for the favoured cronies of the Prime Minister.” The Senators must give Canadians a reason to believe that they serve Canadians and their Parliament first and foremost.
Bill C-10 is seeks to impose an insidious, divisive, pro-punishment, poverty-ignoring and anti-minority right-wing worldview on Canada.
If passed into law, Bill C-10 would violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, particularly: the right to equal protection before the law; the right to be protected from cruel and unusual punishment; the right to liberty; and the rights of Canadians convicted overseas. It would obliterate these hard-won Canadian values: compassion, multiculturalism, inclusion, diversity, fairness, democratic governance, respect for fundamental rights and the rule of law, and accommodation of difference.
Bill C-10 would punish the weak and marginalized. The majority of those who will face tougher sentences, extended periods in custody before trial and extended ineligibility for parole are those with mental health issues, blacks and Aboriginals, who are already oversubscribed in the jail population.
Aboriginal people make up about 4 per cent of Canada’s total population. And yet, according to the Correctional Service of Canada, they constitute a staggering 17 per cent of inmates in the federal prison system.
During Bill C-10 hearings in the House of Commons and Senate, First Nations leaders crawled before our lawmakers and begged them to understand that the Act would “punish” First Nations communities, most of which already live under 4th World and colonialism conditions. It would perpetuate the legacy of residential schools, they said.
But maybe, just maybe, the Senate will revisit the heart-wrenching words of Grand Chief Derek Nepinak of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs on Bill C-10 and its impact on First Nations peoples: “Are we going to be a compassionate Canada and look out for one another, or are we going to criminalize one another and send each other to jail? That’s the fundamental question that has to be answered.”
I sincerely believe that the Senate will do the right thing. That it will kill crime Bill C-10.