Dear Mr. Madondo:
Thank you for your correspondence concerning the Safe Streets and Communities Act. I regret the delay in responding.
In May 2011, we received a strong mandate from Canadians that included support for our commitment to table comprehensive legislation that would reintroduce several law-and-order bills. As you may know, Bill C-10, the Safe Streets and Communities Act, which includes reforms from nine previous bills, was passed by Parliament on March 12, 2012. The provisions of this act will come into force in due course.
The amendments in this comprehensive legislation will make communities safer by extending greater protection to the most vulnerable members of society; enhancing the ability of our justice system to hold criminals accountable for their actions; and helping improve the safety and security of all Canadians.
As you may be aware, a number of the reforms in this legislation fall within the portfolio of the Department of Justice Canada. The Act amends the Criminal Code to increase penalties for sexual offences committed against children and to eliminate the use of conditional sentences, also known as “house arrest”, for serious and violent crimes.
This act also strengthens the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to target organized crime by imposing tougher sentences for the production and possession of illicit drugs for the purposes of trafficking. The production and trafficking of illicit drugs is the most significant source of money for gangs and organized crime. It does profound harm to neighbourhoods, where homes are turned into grow-ops and crystal meth labs.
The drug-related provisions are tough on serious drug crime, but they do not ignore the drug-addicted offender. Under certain circumstances where the accused person is addicted to an illegal substance, this act allows a court to suspend a sentence while the addicted person takes an approved treatment program. Such programs encourage the accused person to deal with the addiction that motivates the criminal behaviour. If the person successfully completes the program, the court may impose a sentence other than the mandatory minimum sentence, such as a suspended sentence.
In addition, this legislation amends the Youth Criminal Justice Act to ensure that violent and repeat young offenders are held accountable for their actions and that the protection of society is given paramount consideration in the treatment of young offenders by the justice system.
While a recent Statistics Canada report indicated that crime rates are declining, it also showed an increase in certain types of crime including child pornography (36%), firearms offences (11%), criminal harassment (5%), and sexual assault (5%). In addition, drug offences increased by 10% in 2010, a continuation of the upward trend that began in the early 1990s. The Safe Streets and Communities Act addresses the increase in child sexual offences and drug offences.
There are also components of this act that fall within the portfolios of Public Safety Canada and Citizenship and Immigration Canada. These include provisions to increase support for victims of crime and terrorism, eliminate record suspensions (pardons) for serious offences, add criteria to the decision-making process involved in the international transfer of offenders, and protect foreign nationals from abuse and exploitation. More information on this legislation can be found in the backgrounder atwww.canada.justice.gc.ca/eng/news-nouv/nr-cp/2012/doc_32713.html.
Most of these former bills were debated and studied in committee in previous Parliaments. Over the course of the past five years, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights and the Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs have spent at least 86 days discussing these measures. This includes 197 hours of discussion, 107 hours of debate, 295 speeches, and 486 witness appearances. By acting swiftly to reintroduce these reforms, we fulfilled our electoral promise to move forward with this legislation and pass it within 100 days.
Our approach is meant to be balanced: it addresses prevention, enforcement, and rehabilitation and respects the rights of the accused, while also respecting victims’ interests as well as community safety. This approach reflects the reality that Canadians lose faith in the criminal justice system when they feel the punishment does not fit the crime.
Although there is a cost to having proportionate sentences, there is also a significant cost to victims and Canadian society as a whole. In 2008, crime in Canada cost an estimated $99 billion, the majority of which—$82.5 billion or 83%—was borne by the victims. Victim costs include the value of damage or stolen property, pain and suffering, loss of income, and health services.
Crime is expensive in financial terms, but even costlier in social terms. What critics often forget to tell Canadians is that there is a cost to crime whatever way you look at it. There are costs related to prevention as well as to detain and rehabilitate offenders. On the other hand, there are costs associated with allowing criminals to roam our streets, trying to keep track of them, and when we do lose track of their whereabouts and they re-offend, the impact can be devastating. Canadians would agree with us that as a law-abiding society we would rather keep criminals behind bars because the costs are much higher if we do not do anything.
Tougher and longer sentences are necessary to protect society from violent and dangerous offenders. All sentences must hold offenders accountable for their crimes, and rehabilitation plays an important part in the sentencing process. Violent or dangerous offenders may require longer sentences in order to effectively achieve this sentencing objective. Prematurely returning an offender to the environment that led to the behaviour in the first place is not in the best interests of the offender or of society.
It is important to note that deterrence is not the only purpose of mandatory minimum penalties, as they also respond to other sentencing objectives set out in section 718 of the Criminal Code. These include conveying society’s denunciation of particularly blameworthy conduct and separating the perpetrators from society. The imposition of mandatory minimum penalties is exceptional and signals the need for the judge to treat the offence seriously and consider the mandatory minimum as merely the starting point when determining an appropriate sentence. By introducing such penalties, our government is sending a strong message that serious crimes will not be tolerated.
Our government wants to ensure that child sexual abuse offences and serious drug offences that are linked to organized crime, involve violence, or target youth result in mandatory jail time. We will continue to deliver on our promises to Canadians to protect our families and communities by cracking down on crime.
I note your concerns for missing and murdered Aboriginal women. The Government of Canada made a commitment in the 2010 Speech from the Throne to ensure that all women in Canada, including Aboriginal women, are safe and secure regardless of the community in which they live.
Budget 2010 invested $10 million over two years to address the disturbingly high number of missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada. On October 29, 2010, my colleague the Honourable Rona Ambrose, Minister for Status of Women, announced seven concrete steps the Government is taking to improve community safety and ensure that the justice system and law-enforcement agencies can better respond to cases of missing and murdered Aboriginal women. These measures include the development of a National Police Support Centre for Missing Persons, improvements to the Canadian Police Information Centre, proposed amendments to the Criminal Code, and improved information-sharing methods for law enforcement and the justice system. For more information on these measures, you may wish to consult the backgrounder available at www.justice.gc.ca/eng/news-nouv/nr-cp/2010/doc_32565.html.
It may interest you to know that the Government supports programs that focus on prevention, rehabilitation, and reintegration as part of our overall approach to strengthening the justice system. For example, restorative justice approaches respond to criminal behaviour by seeking to hold the offender accountable, repair the harm suffered by the victim, and restore the relationship between offenders and victims and between offenders and communities. These approaches are sanctioned either as “alternative measures” under section 717 of the Criminal Code, or as “extrajudicial measures” under section 4 of the Youth Criminal Justice Act. It is important to note that these measures are designed to complement other criminal justice system responses to criminal behaviour and are not intended to replace them.
The concept of restorative justice is still evolving. A number of promising initiatives are being conducted in provincial and territorial justice systems across Canada. The Department of Justice Canada sponsors restorative justice through policy and research, as well as through programs funded by different sectors of the Department. A good example is the Aboriginal Justice Strategy (AJS), managed by the Department’s Aboriginal Justice Directorate. The AJS is a federally coordinated initiative that is cost-shared with the provinces and territories and works in partnership with Aboriginal communities to develop and implement community-based justice programs.
Since 2007, the AJS has allocated $85 million toward Aboriginal community justice programs that strengthen the justice system and protect families. Approximately 200 programs serve more than 600 communities across Canada—including those located on reserves, in urban centres, and in Northern communities—with the goal of reducing the rates of victimization, crime, and incarceration among Aboriginal people.
In addition, through the National Crime Prevention Strategy, our government supports community-based crime prevention projects, and gathers and shares knowledge of effective crime prevention measures. Primary responsibility for crime prevention rests with my colleague the Honourable Vic Toews, Minister of Public Safety. I have therefore taken the liberty of forwarding a copy of your correspondence to him for his information and consideration.
Thank you again for writing.
The Honourable Rob Nicholson
c.c.: The Honourable Vic Toews, P.C., Q.C., M.P. Minister of Public Safety
The minister told me nothing I didn’t know already. I prepared for the protest for almost 6 months. I’d done my research. I’d closely followed the one-sided conversation on Bill C-10.