|Photo: Chris Wattie/Reuters|
|Canada’s Justice Minister Rob Nicholson: “It does cost money to incarcerate people and I believe that Canadians have been willing to pay those costs up to this point and they’ll continue to do so”|
Canada’s Tories are trying to revive a bill that would impose mandatory minimum sentences on people convicted of growing small numbers of marijuana plants.
The Conservative government will re-introduce its drug bill this week in the Senate, as part of its continued attempt to revive “tough-on-crime” legislation that died when the last Parliament was prorogued, reports Mike Blanchfield of The Canadian Press.
The new legislation will revive a controversial provision — a mandatory six-month sentence for people convicted of growing as few as five cannabis plants, hinted Justice Minister Rob Nicholson on Sunday.
The Conservative bill was altered in December by the Senate legal and constitutional affairs committee, which raised the minimum sentence provision to convictions for 200 plants, rather than only five plants, while preserving a judge’s discretion for smaller growing operations.
Nichols criticized the Senate and the Liberals for the changes at the time, but the debate ended when Prime Minister Stephen Harper proguged Parliament. The prime minister packed the Senate with additional Conservatives to give them a majority over the Liberals in the upper house.
Now with Conservatives in control of the Senate, Nicholson said he expects to get the tough drug bill passed quickly, as he originally intended it.
“All I’ll say is I wasn’t impressed by the amendments made in the Senate and again we will be introducing it into the Senate,” Nicholson said. “The bill that we will introduce I’m confident will have a much better chance of passing,” Nicholson said Sunday.
“They watered down some of the provisions with respect to the penalties,” Nicholson said. They wanted a separate aboriginal system. And again we want the bill to apply to everybody. And then penalties we were comfortable with.”
Nicholson wouldn’t be specific, but said “there will be mandatory sentencing provisions in the bill.”
The Senate had said in December it wanted to target kingpins and other major drug players, while giving judges more discretion in dealing with lesser marijuana offenses.
Many analysts warn that the Conservatives’ “tough on crime” agenda will swell Canadian prisons, and create soaring new costs.
For confirmation, the Canadians need only look across the border at the out-of-control nightmare that is the U.S. correctional system, warehousing thousands of non-violent drug offenders given long sentences under tough mandatory minimum drug laws.
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said the cost to Canada’s federal government for the legislation that would end two-for-one credit for time served in pre-custody would be at least $2 billion over five years. That was up from his earlier estimate of only $90 million over two years.
Toews gave that estimate only after The Canadian Press reported that the cost could be as high as $10 billion over five years for federal and provincial governments.
Nicholson refused to discuss the costs of the harsh drug bill.
“It does cost money to incarcerate people and I believe that Canadians have been willing to pay those costs up to this point and they’ll continue to do so,” he said.
“What’s the cost to victims when violent individuals are out on the street that shouldn’t be?” the justice minister asked Sunday.
Groups such as the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health told the Senate committee last fall that mandatory minimum sentences are a bad idea. The Centre’s experts said that drug dependency is a health issue, not a criminal justice matter.
The group told the committee that mandatory minimums have led to “ballooning” prison populations in the United States, and that several states were now focusing more on drug treatment programs.