Impact of Bill C-10 on Aboriginal Peoples

The Senate Committee debating Bill C-10, the omnibus crime bill, heard today how this legislation will negatively impact Aboriginal Peoples.

Shawn Atleo

Shawn Atleo, AFN National Cheif (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press).

Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo  spoke via video conference from his community on the west coast of the Vancouver Island. He made it clear that the AFN is very concerned about the direction Bill C-10 is headed in and that this legislation will not make Aboriginal communities safer. Unfortunately his testimony was cut short due to technical problems, so AFN senior strategist, Roger Jones provided further details and fielded the Senators’ questions.

Jones told the Committee that the AFN searched high and low for elements within Bill C-10 that would improve the situation for Aboriginal Peoples – and couldn’t find anything.

He said the Omnibus Bill will compound the existing over-representation of Aboriginal people in the criminal justice system, such as through mandatory minimum sentences (mms) for drug offences and the removal of judicial discretionwith regard to such things as the Gladue principles.

References to the Gladue decision were frequent throughout AFN panel discussion. Gladue principles, based on a 1999 Supreme Court interpretation of Section 718.2 of the Criminal Code, provide that reasonable alternatives to imprisonment should be sought and particular attention should be given to the circumstances of Aboriginal offenders.

Senator Mobina Jaffer suggested that the Senate could recommend an exemption clause in Bill C-10 so as to preserve Gladue principles.

Senator Fraser questioned how often these principles are applied. (Not often enough, Jones replied.) Senator Lang challenged Jones as to why MMS for such reprehensible crimes as child sexual exploitation should have exceptions for Aboriginal offenders. Jones replied that nature of the crime should never negate the need to look at the offender’s circumstances.

In contrast to the AFN’s detailed concerns with the Omnibus Bill, University of British Colombia Law Professor, Benjamin Perrin, presented the Senate Committee with his strong support of “all” aspects of the bill, suggesting it balances criminal law by enhancing the accountability of offenders and increasing the rights of victims.

He argued that more people charged with cultivating marijuana should be imprisoned and that 89% of marijuana production comes from organized crime groups and the majority of what is produced is destined for the United States, fueling serious border problems. This argument relies on the assumptions of supply suppression and drug probation which have actually made drugs more available and cheaper, and have undermined the public health system.

Indeed, all criminal justice legislation relies on certain assumptions – such as incarceration as a tool of deterrence and segregation as punishment – but as the AFN repeatedly pointed out today, these assumptions and their outcomes have resulted in a sustained failure to address the systemic roots of crime or how the justice system continues to fail First Nations Peoples.

Final Parliamentary vote for Crime Bill

Leadnow.ca encouraged Canadians to not let our government rubber stamp Bill C-10.

On Monday, the Omnibus Crime Bill will go through third reading in the House of Commons. Once a Bill has been read three times, it’s sent to Senate for consideration. After being passed by the Senate, it will be presented to the Governor General for Royal Assent and becomes law.

Experts and advocates for both victims and offenders have all lined up in recent months to express their concerns to this costly bill that will see more people sent to prison for longer periods. Some provincial governments, Quebec in particular, have stated their opposition to this legislation that will see their correction costs balloon.

In light of widespread opposition, and piles of evidence showing its wrong-headedness, Conservatives have shut down debate on the Crime Bill – repeatedly using their majority to put limits on the length and depth of debate.

Given that they have majority in the House of Commons, it is unlikely that this Bill won’t sail through third reading and move on to the Senate. While those advocating for more humane, effective responses to crime will soon turn their efforts to addressing Senators (those unelected officials who, as far as I can tell, have absolutely no accountability to the public), it is not too late for one last public outcry of opposition to our Members of Parliament.

Today I called my local MP’s office to ask if he would be voting in opposition to the Bill. I already knew he would, but perhaps he would still find my phone call encouraging. I then called Rob Nicholson’s office – the Minister of Justice who tabled this Bill – to say, ‘for what it’s worth, I am against this Bill.’ The secretary politely thanked me and that was the end of our conversation. I also wrote to many of my contacts, encouraging them to make calls as well.

Despite my discouragement over the likely outcome of this bill, I have been encouraged by the groups who have publicly expressed their opposition. These include: Canadian Bar AssociationJohn Howard SocietyElizabeth Fry society,Assembly of First NationsNative Women’s AssociationLeadnowHarm Reduction NetworkCanadian Civil Liberties AssociationChurch Council on Justice and Corrections and United Church of Canada.

Victory for Insite

Insite – Vancouver’s supervised injection site

Today the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously ruled that Vancouver’s Insite clinic can stay open and that Ottawa has to back off.

In a ruling based on evidence and research showing that Insite saves lives and promotes rehabilitation, the Court declared that Ottawa’s attempt to shut down the site undermined the protection of health and public safety and violated the Charter of Rights.

Insite supporters celebrated the win. “This is the triumph of science over ideology,”said their lead lawyer, Joe Arvay.

Insite opened in September, 2003 as a safe, sanitary, medically-supervised place where addicts can inject drugs. In this downtown Vancouver location, people “inject drugs and connect to health care services – from primary care to treat disease and infection, to addiction counselling and treatment, to housing and community supports.” It is funded by the BC Ministry of Health and is North America’s first legal supervised injection site.

The Court stated that Insite was “launched as an experiment. The experiment has proven successful. Insite has saved lives and improved health. And it did those things without increasing the incidence of drug use and crime in the surrounding area.”

In fact, the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS reports that since Insite opened, there’s been a 30% increase in the number of addicts who enter detox and the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority says there have been more than a million safe injections at the site with more than 1,400 overdoses but not a single death.

Prime Minister Harper has said that he is disappointed in the ruling, but that Ottawa will comply. This will likely fan the flames of Tory contempt for judicial powers though. It is also unlikely to change the Conservative approach which rejects that addition is an illness best treated by doctors instead of police and prison guards.

I predict that in the years to come the courts will be hearing more cases in which citizens groups challenge tough-on-crime legislation as reducing public safety and violating Charter Rights – especially given that legislation before us now is based on ideology, not evidence.

But today I’m grateful that we have a Supreme Court with the authority and wisdom to protect human rights from political ideology.

Omnibus Crime Bill Tabled in House of Commons

Rob Nicholson

Federal Justice MInister Rob Nicholson tabled the Omnibus Crime Bill on Sept 20, 2011 (Adrian Wyld/CP).

As expected, today the Conservative Justice Minster Rob Nicholson tabled the omnibus crime bill – a massive ‘tough on crime’ legislation package titled ‘Safe Streets and Communities Act’.

Unfortunately this 110-page bill will do little to create real safety for Canadians. Instead it will lead to massive spending, tax increases, over-crowded prisons, decreased judicial discretion and fewer rehabilitative services – none of which will make our communities safer.

The Conservatives were brought down after being found in contempt of Parliament for refusing to disclose the costs of their tough on crime bills. They somehow managed to come back to government with a majority – and are still continuing to refuse to disclose the costs.

Nicholson says that they are ready to pay the price to keep the streets safe. Well, it’s the taxpayers who are going to be paying for it – not just through increased taxes but through seeing money taken out of services like health care and education and sucked into massive prison complexes.

At a press conference in the Centre Block today, four groups – the John Howard Society, the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies (CAEFS), theCanadian Civil Liberties Association and the Native Women’s Association, strongly spoke out against the bill.

Catherine Latimer, Executive Director of the John Howard Society, pointed to concerns about already over-crowded prisons potentially violating human rights as they become more packed. Kim Pate, CAEFS, proposed that an amendment be added to the bill stating that it cannot be enacted until all the provinces and territories have signed off on the costs that they will have to face in housing the increased number of prisoners this bill will create.

Opposition MPs are also demanding that costs be tabled and that the bill not be rammed through without due consideration and deliberation.

“We’re being encouraged to believe we need this for public safety,” said Kim Pate. “It’s a farce. If in fact it was true, then the U.S. would be the safest place in the world, the States would not be going bankrupt and they would not be retreating from this agenda.”

Bill C-23: Pardons will be more difficult to obtain

On June 17, 2010, the House of Commons split Bill C-23 (An Act to amend the Criminal Records Act) into 2 new bills – C-23A and C-23B. Bill C-23A was passed quickly without much debate – pushed through because Karla Homolka, having completed a 12-year manslaughter sentence, would have been eligible for parole under the old legislation and the government used her example to push for legislative changes. It essentially allows the National Parole Board to “deny any pardon that would bring the system into disrepute”.

The second part of the bill – C-23B: Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes Act, is currently before the house. It addresses the remaining aspects of Bill C-23 with such things as substituting the term “record suspension” for “pardon” and extending the period of ineligibility for a record suspension to five years from three for summary conviction crimes, and to 10 years from five for more serious indictable offences such as manslaughter. It also makes those convicted of sexual offences against minors and those who have been convicted of more than three indictable offences as ineligible for a record suspension.

And as with the other current ‘tough on crime’ legislation initiated by the Tories, there is no evidence that this Bill will result in gains to public safety or that it will further the objective of protecting victims. Instead, it’s been described by Kim Pate, executive director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, as “yet another sad and sorry attempt to inflame, rather than to inform, the public.”

First, to be clear, pardons do not mean that people’s criminal records are erased, but that the information is removed from public record so as to improve their chances of obtaining employment and reintegrating into society. For example, a pardon ensures that a sexual offender’s criminal record doesn’t show up on checks of the Canadian Police Information Centre, unless the offender applies for a job involving children, the disabled or any vulnerable group of people.
Pardons can only be applied for after the expiry of a sentence, which means people have paid all restitution orders, served all of their time and satisfied their probation orders. Since 1970, more than 400,000 Canadians have received pardons,96% of which are still in force – meaning the recipients remain crime-free within their communities.
But the government is proposing to extensively lengthen the amount time before which people can apply for pardons – to 5 from 3 years for summary conviction crimes, and to 10 from 5 years for more serious indictable offences, such as manslaughter
And in addition to delaying pardons, the cost of applying for pardons will increase to $631. Only 2 months ago they already bumped the price to $150 from $50. This may not seem like a lot of money too most, but to people who have been unable to find real work due to their criminal records, this could be an insurmountable obstacle.
Because without a pardon – in other words with a criminal record – a person’s chance of finding decent work is extremely limited. And lack of employment is very highly correlated with likelihood to re-offend. Unpardoned, people also continue to live with stigma and oppression, exacerbating such things as low self-esteem and social isolation which further contribute to anti-social behaviour.
So essentially, by making it harder for people to obtain pardons, the government is increasingly the chances that they will commit more crime – in other words, actually threatening the safety of communities.
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