Federal crime bill not winning any friends in province, region

The Waterloo Crime Prevention Council is calling on the federal government to re-examine its omnibus crime bill. “We have been advocating slowing this whole process down a little bit,” said executive director Christiane Sadeler in an interview on Monday afternoon, the same day that the provincial government announced that bill C-10 would cost Ontario more than $1 billion in increased police and court costs. “The province I’m sure have taken some time to come out with this number. I think it’s a good estimate, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s low.”

Formally known as The Safe Streets and Communities Act, the bill was introduced last September and is comprised of nine smaller bills that were presented by the minority Conservative government but never passed into law.
The WRCPC is opposed to the bill on the basis that the topics covered in the document – which range from protecting children from sexual predators to supporting victims of terrorism – are rolled together, rather than dealt with individually.

“Let’s take a look at this legislation but let’s do it bill by bill instead of wholesale,” said Sadeler, adding that the WRCPC is not opposed to certain elements of the bill – just its wholesale nature.
“It’s not about being soft or tough on crime. That’s the wrong question to ask.”

Provincial Correctional Services Minister Madeleine Meilleur said Monday that the province faces the real possibility of having to build a new 1,000-bed jail at a cost of $900 million to house the extra prisoners that will be arrested and sentenced under C-10, a cost that she wants the federal government to cover.

Prison populations are expected to rise significantly under the bill due to its creation of new mandatory minimum sentences, increasing the maximum sentences on some crimes, limiting the use of conditional sentences such as house arrest, and making it harder to receive a pardon.

Sadeler is concerned that here in Waterloo Region the changes will mean more police in courtrooms for trials and less on the streets doing proactive work to limit the amount of crime. Court costs will also rise, meaning the money will have to be cut from other services to help cover those expenses.

She fears the cuts will be to social programs that actually help cut down on crime – programs like recreation programs for youth, support for victims of crime, counselling services, and the like by putting even more financial pressure on a provincial government looking to make cuts to tackle its $16-billion deficit.

“The province is already saying ‘well, we need to cut back,” Sadeler said, alluding to the forthcoming Drummond report aimed at reducing the amount of red ink in the province. “On top of already anticipated cuts, if they have to find a billion dollars, it only makes sense to say that it will have to come from somewhere, and it will likely be from the very programs that we know can prevent crime. So it is cyclical.”

Sadeler also questioned why the Harper government continues to push its tough-on-crime mandate in an era where crime rates continue to fall. In July, Statistics Canada announced that Canada’s crime rate was the lowest it had been in nearly 40 years and that it had been falling steadily for the past 20 years.

Canadian police services reported nearly 2.1 million criminal code incidents in 2010, about 77,000 fewer than in 2009. The Crime Severity Index also fell to its lowest point since 1998. “It does beg the question of ‘why now?’ what are we trying to accomplish? We’re on a good trajectory here in Canada with regards to public safety and security.”

Sadeler also noted that in Waterloo Region crime rates are historically below both the provincial and federal level.

Bill C-10 passed its first and second reading in the Senate Dec. 16, and was referred to the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, where it will stay until members return to the senate next week.
The bill must then pass a third and final vote, and is expected to be passed into law by the middle of February.

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