'I am pleased to have this opportunity to respond' - Macleans.ca

‘I am pleased to have this opportunity to respond’

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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