‘I am pleased to have this opportunity to respond’

by Aaron Wherry

A few weeks ago, Liberal Senator James Cowan wrote the Justice Minister requesting a correcting of the record. A few days ago, the Justice Minister wrote back and Rob Nicholson’s office has kindly passed along that reply.

Full text after the jump.

March 1, 2010

The Honourable James S. Cowan, Q.C.
Leader of the Opposition in the Senate
Room 375-S, Centre Block
Ottawa, ON  K1A 0A4

Dear Senator Cowan:

I thank you for your letter dated February 4, 2010 with respect to our Government’s tackling crime agenda. I am pleased to have this opportunity to respond.

As you are aware, since coming into office in 2006, our Government has made tackling crime a priority because like all Canadians, we believe that protecting society and standing up for victims of crime and law-abiding citizens is paramount.

Our record speaks for itself. Over the last four years, we have been strengthening our laws to ensure greater truth in sentencing, investing in crime prevention, increasing police presence on our streets and looking at ways to improve our correctional system.  Our approach is meant to be tough, but balanced: it respects the rights of the accused, but does not allow for their rights to take precedence over community safety.

However, despite widespread support from law enforcement associations, victims groups, provincial and territorial attorneys general and the Canadian public in general, several important pieces of legislation have faced significant hurdles in parliament, sometimes in both Houses, but more often than not in the Upper Chamber. And as you can appreciate, it takes only one bill to delay all other legislation from going through the Parliamentary process within a respectable timeline.

For example, on May 4, 2006, our Government introduced Bill C-10 which took aim at disrupting organized crime and gangs by imposing tougher mandatory minimum penalties on those who use a firearm to commit crimes.

For over a year, Liberal Members in the House of Commons held Bill C-10 up in committee, introduced concurrence motions at every opportunity, and eventually gutted the use offences that addressed mandatory minimum penalties for:

Attempted murder;

Sexual assault with a weapon;

Aggravated sexual assault;

Kidnapping;

Robbery;

Extortion;

Hostage taking; and

Discharging a firearm with intent.

Eventually, after a year of frustration seeing our justice legislation either gutted or stalled, our Government proceeded to amalgamate this legislation along with several others of our tough on crime measures into Bill C-2, the Tackling Violent Crime Act, which I introduced in October 2007. This bill took aim at serious and violent criminals who threaten our communities and focused on serious gun crimes, drug and alcohol impaired driving, protecting youth from adult sexual predators, and dangerous and repeat violent offenders.

You may recall that when Liberal Senators started musing about potentially amending and delaying our Tackling Violent Crime Act, I appeared before the Senate and called upon you and your colleagues to pass the bill as per the will of the House of Commons or I would be compelled to ask the Prime Minister to declare C-2 a matter of confidence.

At that time, even Liberal Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty recognized the Senate’s delay in getting Bill C-2 passed:

“Stronger gun legislation which would serve to make our streets – particularly here in Toronto – safer, that’s been held up for some two years now…Now it’s winding its way, in a very slow fashion, through the Senate. The Liberals have some influence over that. We want that (Bill C-2) to receive passage.” (Canadian Press, January 24, 2008)

On June 27, 2008 the Tackling Violent Crime Act finally came into force, more than two years after our Government announced each original piece of justice legislation.

Most recently, as you in fact admitted in your letter, your Liberal colleagues in the Senate gutted our legislation that provided mandatory minimum sentences for serious drug crimes (Bill C-15) by removing the mandatory penalty aimed at targeting drug dealers caught with anywhere between 5 to 200 marijuana plants for the purpose of trafficking.

Illicit drug production is the most significant source of money for gangs and organized crime in Canada. If there is a loophole in the law, you can be certain that criminals will exploit it to their advantage. The amendment proposed by your colleagues not only went against the original intent of the bill – as such gutting it at its core – it could have resulted in gangs and organized crime operations spreading out their illegal activities and growing 100 or 150 marijuana plants in five or six different grow-op locations without having to fear jail time.

Furthermore, during the study of the bill at committee, Liberal Senators called 65 different witnesses to testify at 13 different Senate meetings – amounting to more than twice the number of witnesses and meetings as took place in the House of Commons.  The strangest delay tactic of all was calling on witnesses to speak on issues that were not even within the scope of the legislation.

As I indicated during the press conference you refer to in your letter, our Government intends on re-introducing our mandatory minimum sentences for serious drug crimes bill in its original form in the Senate. Some of your colleagues have already indicated in public that they will attempt, yet again, to gut this legislation by re-introducing the same amendments.

I believe Canadians will agree that anyone who is running a marijuana grow operation and has in their possession 50 or 100 marijuana plants and beyond is in the business for the purpose of trafficking.

Our Government’s message remains clear: drug lords who sell or produce drugs should pay with jail time. Canadians can count on us to continue to stand up for law-abiding citizens and denounce any measures or tactics that you and your colleagues may use to obstruct or water down this legislation.

Our legislation aimed at providing mandatory minimum sentences for serious drug crimes was not the only one that was met with resistance in the Senate. Our Truth in Sentencing Act (Bill C-25) is another piece of legislation that also faced significant hurdles, despite the widespread support, yet again, from law enforcement, provincial and territorial attorneys general, and the Canadian public.

Notwithstanding the unanimous support from all parties in the House of Commons, Liberal Senators took steps to gut the legislation, legitimizing the current practice of awarding double credit for time served.

This awarding of extra credit lead not only to the perception that sentences were too lenient – it also lead to the reality that, all too often, criminals were being released back on our streets far too soon. Like the majority of Canadians, our Government believed that this situation was unacceptable. So we acted on it and I am pleased to report that the Truth in Sentencing Act came into force on February 22, 2010.

The Truth in Sentencing Act provides Canadian courts with guidance for the practice of granting “credit for time served”. It now limits the amount of credit that criminals receive for their time in pre-sentencing custody at a one-to-one ratio, except in exceptional circumstances.

And as it is customary with any changes to the Criminal Code, the federal government allowed for a period of time for all justice partners to be fully informed and prepared to implement the new changes before they take effect. In Canada, justice is a shared jurisdiction and the provinces and territories are responsible for its administration.

In conclusion, while I am hopeful that you and your Liberal colleagues will be more concerned about addressing crime in the coming session, I do not expect much to change given recent comments made by some of your colleagues and the overall Liberal soft approach to crime.

After all, it was a Liberal government that:

granted the “faint hope” of early release to first degree murderers;

brought in conditional sentences allowing rapists and other violent offenders to walk away free;

excluded protection of society as a principle of sentencing in the Criminal Code;

instructed courts to use less restrictive sentences and consider all available sanctions other than imprisonment for all offenders;

cut the RCMP by 2,500 officers;

proposed decriminalizing the possession of marijuana.

Given such a record, it therefore comes as no surprise that victims of crime representatives were neglected from the invitation list for a recent Liberal Roundtable on Community Safety.

On a final note, our Government was elected to build a stronger, safer, better Canada – one in which Canadians feel confident that they will be able to live and raise their families in safety and security.  Canadians can count on our Government to fulfill its promises.

Yours truly,

The Honourable  Rob Nicholson


c.c. The Right Honourable Stephen Harper, P.C., Q.C., M.P.

Prime Minister of Canada

The Honourable Marjory LeBreton

Leader of the Government in the Senate




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‘I am pleased to have this opportunity to respond’

  1. If I didn't know any better, Id think no one in the DoJ read Cowan's letter.

  2. Hey Rob, Reality called. It was wondering why you haven't been in touch lately….

  3. Make sure you wash your hands after dumping that load, Mr. Nicholson.

  4. The Conservatives are anything but "tough" on crime. Their crime and drug policy has three parts: 1 ) To pander to myopic, media-addled, punishment-fetishists who make up his voter base and who think jail is the best cure/deterrent for any behaviour; 2 ) to paint anyone who speaks sensibly about drugs as "soft" on crime; 3 ) to impose a U.S.-style, for-profit prison industry onto Canadians.

    There is no evidence to support the notion mandatory minimum jail sentences work ( and Minister of Justice Rob Nicholson raged against them when he sat in Opposition ), and since crime has been dropping for 25 years, there seems little need for them.

    There is also no merit to Mr. Nicholson's repeated public assertions that "this is what Canadians want," because poll after poll shows the majority of Canadians would rather see marijuana laws relaxed, not toughened.

    There is however, substantial evidence to show mandatory minimum jail sentences are outrageously counterproductive. In fact, all the evidence shows this.

    Bill C-15, which offers mandatory jail sentences for growing even one marijuana plant, would necessitate the building of no less than 12 new billion-dollar prisons, and cost taxpayers upwards of $500 million per year to maintain. Since tens of thousands of people under the age of 30 will be in jail, this will make the 'jobless' numbers appear lower. Maybe this is Stephen Harper's plan to reduce unemployment? There will certainly be jobs for guards.

    This policy has been wildly successful in the U.S. It has increased partisanship, filled the airwaves with balderdash, increased crime, and has made a handful of wealthy Americans even wealthier. And that is what Mr. Harper wants for Canada.

    Incidentally, the Netherlands, where marijuana is sold in 'coffee shops', they are laying off guards and closing jails because they don't have enough crime.

  5. Rob Nicholson has only a passing familiarity with facts and even less with the truth.
    He inverts and contorts other people's positions to buttress his own false statements, while ignoring any fact or ruling that goes against his political agenda.
    His contempt for lawmakers and the nation's courts make him unfit to serve as Justice Minister.

    • One of the finer moments in Canadian Senate history, much to Mr. Nicholson's chagrin, I"m sure.

      What. A. Doofus.

    • Possibly the most polite slap to the face he'll ever get.

    • Joan Fraser, a member of the media much like Senator Duffy, received a 21 year appointment to the Senate from Chretien in 1998. She went on to be head of the Liberal caucus until 2003 so we can assume she has worked directly with the Liberals in the HOC.

      Rob Nicholson is the Minister of Justice in gov`t and seeks reelection frequently. He reminds the Appointed Senate that if they delay or drastically change the bills before them, then the gov`t is willing to go to the people to ask their opinion.

      If we don`t like what Nicholson is doing then we will vote him out in the next election.
      If we don`t like what Fraser is doing then we will just have to wait another 10 years until there is a forced retirement.
      heather: Why do you hate Democracy ?

      • There are mechanisms to change Canadian democracy, it's institutions and conventions.

        Until you, or Harper, or the CPC have the fortitude to attempt to change them you are required to respect them in the form they currently exist.

        Apparently that simple concept escapes you and Harper and the CPC?

        • I think it will take more than me and Harper and the CPC to change this Senate institution you speak off, but in the meantime, I see no harm in reminding the Senate about their duties and limitations.

      • Real convincing arguement there CM. Unfortunately elections are no cure for the terminally stupid, or willfully partisan.

        • kcm: Why do you hate the Electorate ?

          • Since i'm one of them, i assume your question is rhetorical…or merely non sensical…or merely a joke[ as in funny]

          • The latter— or a sorry attempt at one.

          • Not at all, made me smile:)

    • so awesome. i love how the camera pans with him holding up his hands like he doesn't know what to say next!

  6. Nicholson mentions his appearance before the Legal Affairs Committee in the Senate…. How did that go for him, again? Oh right:

  7. if no one in the mainstream media corrects Nicholson in his lies then why bother even living – more than sickened at the sycophantic press we have in Canada.javascript:%20hideMsgBox();

  8. Aaron, are you sure this is a real letter (since the link above points to a Word Doc.) that has actually been sent? When did Stephen Harper become a Q.C.? Or, is this just snark?

    • i'm pretty sure Harper doesn't even own a law degree, much less have the right to put the letters QC after his name.

    • I believe in this case, QC stands for "Questionable Character."

      • Or queer customer…oops sorry Rumpole.

    • Ohhh. Wherry, tags, dammit! Would it kill you to put "irony" in there?

      I was all set to write a snarky post titled, "what is the difference between 5 and 50?" but then I got to the last paragraph.

      "On a final note, our Government was elected to build a stronger, safer, better Canada – one in which Canadians feel confident that they will be able to live and raise their families in safety and security. Canadians can count on our Government to fulfill its promises."

      This is different than the last time their Government was elected, you remember, on an accountability, transparency, platform? So it is clear no Conservative actually wrote this, because the last line is the joke.

  9. http://communities.canada.com/vancouversun/blogs/

    Amazing how facts affect perspective. Nicolson's a clown? The faint hope clause was introduced after the libs upped the sentance for murder's from 13 to 25 years; this being necessary once the death penalty was repealed. But i understand Ignatieff is going along with the repealing of the clause…more evidence for me at least that he hasn't the backbone to lead the liberal party.

  10. Bill C-15 "targeted" a whole spectrum of illicit drugs, so I fail to see how a minor amendment on cannabis cultivation "gutted" the Bill. What Mr. Nicholson neglected to mention is that, as amended, mandatory minimums would still apply to those growing less than 200 plants if they grow in a rental property, or in proximity to youth, or in proximity to weapons, or present a public safety risk. Jurisprudence has already established that growing a single plant in your window box is a public safety hazard if for no other reason that it attracts thieves.

  11. "I am pleased to have this opportunity to bury you with unhelpful information."

    There, fixed.

  12. Common man, you funny guy. What makes you think we live in a Democracy?

  13. When is the last time Rob Nicholson actually practiced law?

  14. I can answer my own question. It looks like he stopped being a lawyer after he was elected in 1984. When he lost his seat in 1993 he stayed in politics at the local level.

    The Charter was barely born when he stopped practicing law.

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