Saturday, October 20, 2007

Crime bill: Back to Square One, needlessly

The whole point behind Parliamentary committees is to scrutinize legislation and see how to make it better. In some cases there are wholesale changes to the proposed bill -- changes which have to be approved by the whole House before the amended bill is voted upon at third reading -- but for the most part they are technical clarifications, and usually a government, especially one in a minority situation, won't be opposed to that.

So what is this compulsion that PMS has over the omnibus crime bill? Under normal procedures, after prorogation and a new session commencing, any unpassed bills are simply renumbered and reintroduced at the point they left off. And much of the legislation was already in the Senate, either having been reviewed by the Red Chamber's Justice Committee and awaiting final passage or in the last stages of being scrutinized.

As the Liberals have a solid majority in the Senate, it's one of the few places Harper can be held to account, as the private MSM media who are the official organs of the Con party refuse to do so; and the allegedly publicly owned CBC is wont to ask the tough questions for fear of losing its appropriation from Parliament.

Instead, Harper decided to start all over again and present it as an all or nothing deal; adding that any attempts to amend the legislation would be seen as a vote of non-confidence.

Exsqueeze me? Sphinctersezwhat?

I'm not opposed to raising the age of consent for statutory rape charges -- matter of fact, I think 16 is too low if the victim is non-consenting, it should be eighteen. (Consenting teenagers, heterosexual or homosexual, should of course not be prosecuted.) I support tougher sentences for gun crimes -- and the five year minimum is a good start, although it's actually a 25% increase from the current minimum of four passed during the Chrétien Administration. The drug strategy is troubling, but repeat offenders shouldn't keep using treatment as a fallback -- that's for the health care system anyway, not the criminal law systen. And yes, I support three strikes and you're out for those who commit violent felonies.

The sticking point is the reverse onus for dangerous offenders. If the Supreme Court of Canada ruled it unconstitutional for refusing to give a breath sample for the Breathalyzer test, certainly it would be for the worst of the worst. There are ways to make it pass constitutional muster -- after all, we don't ever want to see Paul Bernardo on the streets again. But in theory, the law as is could see that possibility; and since time in custody counts as double, the Sicko from Scarborough actually qualified for early parole this year, not 2010 as many people may believe. Does Harper really want to be known as the guy who created a revolving door rather than trying to remove it?

For Harper to attempt to corner the Liberals as weak on crime on these issues is not just disingenuous, it's deceitful. The bills would have passed anyway and could have been even proclaimed by Governor General Michaëlle Jean by now. Instead we're back to square one and to give it reasonable scrutiny at this point would take well into Spring Break. It's amazing that to stop the Clean Air Act as amended by the opposition from becoming law, he'd kill the Criminal Code amendments too.

Besides, what I'd like to see in addition to tougher sentences is a "broken windows" approach. Deal with minor crimes -- such as vandalism -- at the source, before the problem escalates and whole neighbourhoods and even cities become safe havens for the mafia, or drug lords, or Al Qaeda. Since these are usually the kinds of crimes that net sentences of up to two years less one day, they are punished by the provincial and territorial prisons; and there's no funding for that. You can't fight crime without giving the Premiers mo' money.

So, if the Liberals want to sit and wait on this, I say go for it. After all, that would be giving the Cons a taste of their own medicine.

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