Conservative gov’t introduces big crime bill

Mood in House quieter, but that may change: MP Randy Kamp

Conservative MP Randy Kamp

Conservative MP Randy Kamp

The waves of goodwill and partisan antagonism sweep back and forth across the House of Commons in Ottawa.

While the mood in the House on the hill Wednesday was warm and fuzzy, commemorating the late NDP leader Jack Layton, Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge-Mission MP Randy Kamp says that could change.

With the first majority Conservative government (166 seats vs. the NDP’s 103) in Ottawa since the days of Brian Mulroney in the 1980s, Kamp says for now, the atmosphere is quieter.

“I’m not sure if it feels any different. It’s certainly not as raucous.”

Kamp added he’s not sure if that’s because there’s a majority government, “or we all decided to be nicer to each other.”

Wednesday also saw the introduction of the Conservatives’ big crime bill, lumping some of the party’s earlier law and order issues into a single, major piece of legislation.

The bills were all previously introduced and are now back to fulfill a campaign promise that the Conservatives would pass them within the first 100 days in office.

“So none of these are new. We’re just keeping that promise,” Kamp said.

While critics say the legislation is moving Canada towards an American style-system of jailing more people, Kamp disagrees.

“I think our policy is quite different than the Americans.

“None of these measures that we’re putting in place creates criminals, but it does keep them in jail longer.

“Most Canadians agree with that approach, that people in jail should be in jail.”

The legislation is called the Safe Streets and Communities Act and will also target terrorism. Key parts:

• increased jail terms for offences against children, as well as the introduction of two new offences;

• tougher terms for possessing drugs for the purpose of trafficking, including mandatory jail of six months for those growing six or more marijuana plants for the purpose of trafficking;

• eliminating house arrest, or conditional sentencing, for serious or violent crimes;

• allowing victims to participate in parole hearings;

• allowing the court to look at a youth’s other, non-judicial history when passing sentence – it also would be mandatory for the Crown to seek an adult sentence for youths convicted of serious crimes (murder, aggravated sexual assault);

• another measure directed at youth would make it easier to jail if they were involved in reckless behaviour, even though no one was hurt (that would expand the definition of “violent offence” making imprisonment easier);

• add “specific deterrence and denunciation” to sentencing principles;

• extending the periods of ineligibility to apply for pardons of criminal records;

• allowing victims to sue those who committed terrorist acts, as well as certain countries.

Local NDPer Elizabeth Rosenau thinks the bill is a gradual move towards the U.S. system, which she says puts more people in jail than the rest of the world.

“This is an incremental change that’s going in the direction of the American system.”

She wants a more flexible approach that identifies and treats those who are mentally ill or those with low-IQ or with addictions.

“When there’s really not a good social network for people … then what happens is once they’re in the criminal justice system, they’re stamped criminal. Mental health is not a consideration.

“Addiction is no longer a consideration. It’s black-and-white thinking and puts everybody in the system and puts a stamp on them called criminal … and is very likely to lead them to a life of crime.”

Rosenau is a Special Olympics swimming coach and pointed out that recent intervention helped save a developmentally disabled man from getting involved in a life of crime – costing the state millions in prison costs.

Neither is there any structure in place at the school level to identify those at risk.

“But that’s not happening at the school level and my question is, why not?”

A more efficient means of targeting therapies for inmates, she said, would be identifying each inmate’s ailment and treat for those conditions rather than waste money on pointless therapies.

She says the reason the public supports get-tough on crime laws is because the media sensationalizes coverage of crime and exaggerates its role.

“That’s because there’s a great deal of sensational coverage of crime that makes it seem like it’s a larger problem.”

But if more time was spent showing the other side, people would change their minds on the issue.

According to Wikipedia, 7,225,800 adults were under correctional supervision (probation, parole, jail, or prison) in 2009 — about three per cent of the U.S. population.

The website says the U.S. has the world’s highest incarceration rate, 743 people per 100,000. Canada’s sits at 117.

The U.S. incarceration rate is slightly below the rate that existed the pre-Second World War days in the Soviet Union, when Stalinist terror produced a rate of 800 people imprisoned per 100,000 of the population.

• Kamp will present to Layton’s wife, Olivia Chow, a book of condolences signed by people in his riding office.

Most of the book was full of signatures and comments for the leader, who died Aug. 22 of cancer.