Prisons & Bill C-22……

……CONFRONTING INEQUITIES…….A BEGINNING?

The Liberal government tabled Bill C-22 in mid-February to address the overrepresentation of Indigenous and Black people in the justice system.  It would repeal mandatory minimum penalties for all drug offences and some firearm offences, expand the use of conditional sentences (i.e. house arrest) for a number of crimes and allow police and prosecutors to divert drug possession charges away from the courts.

Critics say it’s a step in the right direction but doesn’t go far enough.  For one, it does not repeal simple drug possession from the Criminal Code.  Lawyers and advocates say this was a missed opportunity to what is otherwise a strong bill.  “It’s probably the first progressive piece of criminal justice reform in the last two decades, so it’s a sight for sore eyes.  It’s a huge step in the right direction.”  This from Daniel Brown, vice-president of Ontario’s Criminal Lawyers’ Association.

The sentencing laws imposed by the Stephen Harper government did not deter crime, and for one, led to the custodial overrepresentation of minorities and low-risk, first-time offenders.  “This rigid one-size-fits-all approach makes it impossible for judges to take into account mitigating factors in order to impose a sentence that fits the crime,” said Justice Minister David Lametti earlier this year.

Senator Kim Pate, who is heavily involved is social justice issues, introduced the legislation in the Senate.  “Bill C-22 emphasizes the vital importance of alternatives to criminalization and imprisonment to redress systemic racism.  It is regrettable that the government acknowledges these realities yet stopped sort of taking the kinds of bold steps we need right now,” she said.

Opposition Conservatives were quick to bash the bill, claiming removing mandatory minimums will not help Canadians living with addictions.  Frankly, the Conservatives do not know what they’re talking about.  A pushback letter in the spring challenged Conservative justice critic Rob Moore and House leader Gérard Deltell:…..

Messrs. Rob Moore & Gérard Deltell:

Conservative Party attitudes towards crime and punishment are medieval.

……. I accuse you and your fellow party members of advancing punitive, regressive, and retributive policies in support of a reactionary judiciary and a brutish prison industry.

Bill C-22 is anathema to you.  It doesn’t go far enough but deserves to become law all the same.

I hope that pisses you off.

Critics say the bill should have eliminated drug possession offences altogether rather than requiring police and prosecutors to consider alternatives to criminal charges and incarceration.  According to University of Toronto criminologist Akwasi Owusu-Bempah,  “we know that police officers do not exercise their discretion evenly across social groups, and so racialized individuals, Indigenous people and economically marginalized people are less likely to benefit from positive police discretion.”

)()(

Okay, so we have this bill moving through the House and Senate towards Royal Assent.  Right?  This Bill C-22, “hailed as one of the most progressive pieces of criminal justice legislation in years”, according to Jacques Gallant writing in the Toronto Star in early July.  Right?

Well, not so fast.  The Liberal government was first elected in 2015, promising criminal justice reform, but waited ‘til February of this year to produce what Toronto criminal defence lawyer Annamaria Enenajor calls “progressivism pageantry.”  “Which is an outward display of values and enunciation of principles that are consistent with progressive ideals, particularly in terms of reforming the criminal justice system, but no actual, meaningful changes or action.  It’s all pageantry.”

The bill barely budged in the House of Commons, which rose for the summer in June.  If a fall election is called, the bill will die.  The Liberals and Conservatives are blaming each other for delays.  In the meantime, during the present government’s tenure, between 2015 and 2020, the proportion of federal prisoners who are Indigenous rose from 24 per cent to 30 per cent.

Again, Criminal Lawyers Association Vice-president Daniel Brown noted that while the government may “lament” the delays in getting C-22 passed, it’s had years, including four years as a majority government, to implement meaningful reform.  “Six years later, they haven’t been able to accomplish it, and anyone watching would wonder whether or not (C-22) was a hollow promise at the tail end of their tenure.”

Justice Minister David Lametti must answer for that:

The Honourable David Lametti,
Constituency Office,
Montreal

Re:       Bill C-22

Minister Lametti:

Your government has had years, four of them with a majority, to craft and shepherd C-22 through Parliament’s bureaucratic labyrinth from the bill’s inception to Royal Assent.

What happened?  Yes, there’s been justifiable criticism that C-22 doesn’t go far enough, but all the same, it’s been called a “huge step in the right direction,” a strong bill, and “one of the most progressive pieces of criminal justice legislation in years.” 

Where is it now?  A parliamentary custodian is poised with it over a recycle bin, pending the call for a fall election when C-22 would die.  We can only hope that won’t happen.

This failure to execute is on you.  As Daniel Brown put it, “anyone watching would wonder whether or not (C-22) was a hollow promise……”

What are you going to do?

Now.  Prisons.  Back to where we were…..

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