When Canada’s Parliament re-convened in September 2011, the Minister of Justice introduced the Safe Streets and Communities Act, an omnibus bill of nine separate measures. The measures include replacing the pardon system with ‘record suspensions’, mandatory minimum sentences for certain sexual offenses and mandatory minimum penalties for certain drug offenses, making it illegal to make sexually explicit information available to a child, increasing prison sentences for marijuana offenses, reducing the ability of judges to sentence certain offenders to house arrest, allowing immigration officers to deny work permits to foreigners who are at risk of being sexually exploited, and enabling Canadians to sue state sponsors of terrorism for losses due to an act of terrorism.

Critics are worried about the omnibus bill. Opposition advocates object for a variety of reasons. The reasons expounded on so far are:

Mandatory Minimums

The most criticized aspect is the introduction of mandatory jail sentences. Opponens argue this type of sentencing has been tried — and failed — in other jurisdictions, most infamously, America. In the U.S. mandatory sentencing has created more problems than it has fixed.

Coupling that with other changes, such as increasing the maximum sentencing clauses are accepted as being unreasonably burdensome to Canada’s prisons with no benefit.

Under C10, costs of prosecuting offenders will increase as it eats away at funding for rehab programs,

Prison populations will increase,

Judge’s discretion to tailor sentences will be removed,

Alternative sentencing will be limited, and

Small-time drug offenders will be disproportionately punished

The list goes on.

The parliamentary budget office estimates the average cost estimate will jump to more than $40K.

Canadian legal experts predict the legislation will lead to more trials. Persons accused of crimes won’t be as apt to plead guilty if the no there is zero chance of getting a conditional sentence. This invariably leads to more backlogs in an already overloaded court system.

The Parole Board of Canada, which now costs over $4,000 for a single review, will be flooded with cases. With the increase in incarcerations, there are more offenders going up for parole.

Young Offenders

Modifications to the Youth Criminal Justice Act imposes tougher sentencing guidelines for repeat young offenders. Law enforcement will be keeping more offenders in custody before trial, thus flooding the jails.

The Takeaway

Stiffer sentences only turn young offenders into criminals and undermine any effort at rehabilitation. As with other aspects of the crime bill, critics say harsher sentencing rules and a refreshed emphasis on prison, will disproportionately affect aboriginal and black Canadians. And they are already over-represented inside the criminal justice system.