Sweeping Omnibus Crime Bill Includes Controversial Measures

Bill C-10, the Conservative government’s omnibus crime legislation, the Safe Streets and Communities Act, blends nine previous bills that did not pass before last spring’s election. Late September’s debate on the bill was limited by the Conservatives at the same time as BC’s top trial judge was raising concerns about its consequences. BC Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Bauman is concerned in particular about the bill’s plan to put more people in jail for longer.

Justice Bauman feels it will certainly put a strain on his court from the point of view of a manpower issue as well as on Corrections Canada and on the corrections in British Columbia actually housing these people. Given that judges rarely comment on political issues, and that controversy is raging over the crime bill, the Chief Justice was remarkably candid. He emphasized the views of correctional officers who insist jails and prisons are already overcrowded.

These comments are further evidence of the growing concern that more discussion, not less, is needed on these controversial measures. The ability of MPs to review and scrutinize the contents of this bill has been severely curtailed unjustifiably. Stiffer sentencing measures ignore the best evidence on public safety, crime prevention, and corrections. As well, no clear cost estimate has been provided for this punishment-oriented approach, which will cost taxpayers billions in correctional spending because of the vast increase in mandatory sentencing.

Another regressive step is the proposed changes for eligibility requirements for pardons. Under current legislation, the duration of the waiting period prior to your being eligible to submit your application for a pardon to the Parole Board of Canada depends on the nature of the offense, as follows:

  • A summary non-sexual offense carries a 3-year waiting period.
  • An indictable non-sexual offense or a summary sexual offense carries a 5-year waiting period.
  • An indictable sexual offense or a personal injury offense, for which a sentence of 2 or more years was imposed, carries a 10-year waiting period.

This waiting period begins when your sentence has been completely fulfilled, and only when the waiting period has elapsed will the Parole Board of Canada accept your application. Bill C-23B currently before Parliament would make significant changes to these eligibility waiting periods, resulting in substantially longer eligibility waiting periods for prospective pardon applicants.

Under the proposed new legislation, the waiting period prior to eligibility would be extended to the following:

  • A summary offense would carry a 5-year waiting period.
  • An indictable offense would carry a 10-year waiting period.

Additionally, the new legislation extends the criteria that would render an applicant permanently ineligible for a pardon. Permanent ineligibility would apply to anyone:

  • Who was convicted of any offense listed in Schedule 1 of the Criminal Records Act - broadly speaking, Schedule 1 of the Criminal Records Act consists of sexual offenses
  • Who was convicted of more than 3 indictable offenses each carrying a sentence of two or more years

What this means for anyone interested in applying for a pardon is that the time to act is now. Any applications acknowledged and accepted by the Parole Board of Canada prior to the new legislation passing will be governed by the current laws. What is still unknown is exactly if and when the new legislation will take effect. The new legislation is currently before Parliament, but the timelines for passage and what the final version will look like remain to be seen.


1 comment:

  1. Glad to see your getting the word out on these sweeping changes, which for the most part do not address crime but continue to punish those who have made a mistake in life. Increased pardon time would have many effects. One being the ability to get a job. Thanks to bill c-168 everyone now does background checks and will not hire anyone with a criminal record. So right now you have to be unemployed for 3 years. Having to wait 5 only temps one to do something illegal again to put food on the table.