Despite widespread criticism from experts and a massive price tag, Canada’s Harper Conservatives on Tuesday passed by a 154 to 129 vote the controversial Bill C-10, the so called omnibus crime bill or “Safe Streets and Communities Act.” The new law includes harsh mandatory jail sentences for minor marijuana offenses. The Beyond Prohibition Foundation, which has long advocated against these sweeping changes to Canada’s criminal justice system, said it was “deeply troubled by the implications of the bill.”
The bill increases sentences for drug and sex offenses, reduces the use of conditional sentences such as house arrest, provides harsher penalties on young offenders, and makes it more difficult to get a pardon, reports Bruce Cheadle of the Canadian Press
Critics said the changes will do nothing for public safety but will cost literally hundreds of millions of dollars from increased prison populations; much of that cost will be borne by provinces and territories rather than Canada’s federal government. The changes are also expected to clog the courts, as many offenders will opt for trials rather than agreeing to a plea deal when they’re looking at a mandatory minimum sentence.
|Kirk Tousaw, Beyond Prohibition: “This legislation is going to overburden an already troubled court system and will require the provinces to spend millions, perhaps even hundreds of millions, jailing nonviolent drug offenders”
The letter pointed out that the War On Drugs has been a repeated, dismal failure across the globe — fueling the very violence and organized crime it is supposed to combat. It warned Harper against “repeating U.S. mistakes” with the mandatory minimum sentences contained in Bill C-10.
“We are looking at bankrupting the criminal justice and correctional systems in this country,” said Kirk Tousaw, the Beyond Prohibition Foundation
‘s executive director and a practicing criminal defense lawyer. “We know that there will be more trials and massively increased spending on incarceration rather than rehabilitation.
“This legislation is going to overburden an already troubled court system and will require the provinces to spend millions, perhaps even hundreds of millions, jailing nonviolent drug offenders,” Tousaw said.
The bill was opposed by all opposition parties, the majority of Canadians, and the provinces of Ontario and Quebec, as well as the vast majority of academic researchers — and, according to End Prohibition
, “has catalyzed support against the Conservative crime ideology.”
|Jacob Hunter, Beyond Prohibition Foundation: “This legislation will put medical marijuana cultivators and compassionate dispensaries at serious risk of long jail sentences”
According to one recent poll
, two-thirds of Canadians support legalization or decriminalization of marijuana.
Hundreds of experts have testified against the legislation, pointing out that much harsher mandatory jail terms failed to impact crime rates in the United States and have destroyed the prison systems in many states.
“When you have to let violent offenders out of jail early to make room for marijuana growers, you have a system that is an utter failure,” Tousaw said.
“This legislation will put medical marijuana cultivators and compassionate dispensaries at serious risk of long jail sentences,” said Jacob Hunter, the Foundation’s policy director. “The idea of jailing anyone for helping the sick and dying should be abhorrent to all Canadians.
“So, too, is putting someone in jail for struggling with the disease of addiction, yet Mr. Harper’s ideologically driven agenda is going to do exactly that,” Hunter said. “This has never been about ‘targeting serious organized crime’ but, instead, is about creating massive profits for the private-prison industry that Mr. Harper and his cronies seem intent on creating.”
“We have seen Harper’s ideology play out in the United States over the past 30 years, and it’s been a complete and total failure,” said Dana Larsen of End Prohibition. “It has not curbed drug use, it has not made streets any safer, and it has cost hundreds of billions of dollars.”
“Ontario taxpayers cannot bye expected to pay the full costs for federal anti-crime initiatives,” said Ontario Community Safety and Correctional Services Minister Madeleine Meilleur on Monday, reports Tobi Cohen of Postmedia News
. The province expects C-10 will cost it more than $1 billion and will result in an additional 1,500 prison inmates, requiring the construction of a 1,000-bed facility to accommodate them.
“We expect Ottawa to do what’s right and provide additional funding to help Ontario deal with the consequences of Bill C-10,” Meilleur said.
Crime rates in Canada have declined for years, and drug markets there are significantly less violent that than those in the U.S. The Foundation said it believes that is likely to change now.
“One of the tragic ironies of these laws is that they actually make the drug markets more profitable and increase the risk of turf wars,” Hunter said. “I expect to see increased prohibition-based violence with no corresponding social benefits.”
The Foundation also raised the possibility of legal challenges to the mandatory jail terms.
“This will become a Charter fight now,” vowed Tousaw. “The politicians didn’t listen to reason but we have hope that the courts will.”