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9 Articles (May 2-8, 2006):
Critics of the government's tougher-sentences legislation say it will lead the backlogged criminal justice system to become more clogged with more trials and more offenders — particularly if the system isn't infused with massive amounts of cash. They also say measures meant to deter crime will have no such effect.
On the other hand, supporters of the bill tabled yesterday, such as Toronto police Chief Bill Blair, say bad guys will be locked up for longer periods of time, unable to disrupt the lives of peaceful, law-abiding citizens.
If the legislation passes, first-time weapons offenders will be sentenced to at least five years in prison. Second-time offenders would face a minimum of seven years, and that would rise to 10 years for multiple offenders.
Other firearm-related offences, such as trafficking and smuggling, and a new offence of committing a robbery to steal a weapon, would be subject to escalating minimum sentences of three to five years.
But Toronto lawyer James Morton, who is vice-president of the Ontario Bar Association, thinks the public is being misled if people believe mandatory minimum sentences alone will discourage criminals from committing crimes.
"Mandatory minimum sentences do not have the effect of minimizing crime. They do have the effect of sometimes satisfying political needs," Morton said yesterday.
Greg DelBigio, acting chair of the Canadian Bar Association's national criminal justice section, said "you need to ask what it is that the government is hoping to accomplish through these bills. If the answer is they are attempting to make the streets safer, nobody can disagree with that objective."
Speaking on the phone from Vancouver, DelBigio added that it is more doubtful that placing more people in jail for longer periods of time will, in fact, result in safer streets.
An Ontario judge, who asked not to be named, concurred.
"The general consensus seems to be there is a deterrent effect of the whole process of being detected, arrested, prosecuted, sentenced ... What has not been demonstrated, and the vast bulk of the evidence these days suggests, there is no deterrent effect from increasing sentences."
The reason is simple, the judge stated.
"The problem is it (mandatory minimum sentencing) assumes that criminals are rational," said the judge. "I wish they were. But your average dumbo isn't thinking rationally. `Oh gee, if I carry a gun to this armed robbery I'm about to do, I'm going to get a four-year minimum, or five-year or 10-year; Gee, I better not do that ...'
"Your average, wired-up junkie, who robs a bank with a gun, he doesn't think about it."
And there's another issue.
While the public may hunger for retribution, enraged by the perception that criminals are getting off too lightly, imposing a mandatory minimum sentence doesn't take into account "the variety and complexity of human situations. Just occasionally, along comes a case where you would like to say I understand what the general rule is, but in this case it's unjust to apply," said the judge.
Morton says what mandatory minimum sentences do is increase the number of trials and steps taken leading up to trial. If an accused person knows what he or she is going to get, there's little incentive to engage in a plea bargain "so more cases tend to go to trial."
This will put a tremendous strain on the court system, "which is already at the breaking point," said Morton.
For example, the earliest court time for a long civil trial right now in Toronto is 2008.
Tory crime bills may jam jails
Minimum sentences for serious crime could add 300-400 to inmate population
May 4, 2006.
OTTAWA — The new Conservative government's get-tough-on-crime legislation could prove to be tough on taxpayers.
Justice Minister Vic Toews introduced two bills Thursday that would toughen sentencing for serious crimes — and could put hundreds more offenders in federal prisons at a cost of up to $240 million.
One bill would impose mandatory minimum sentences of between three and 10 years for various gun-related crimes, while the other would do away with conditional sentencing, such as house arrest, for a range of serious offences.
Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day said the combined effect could be an increase of between 300 and 400 in the federal prison population, though he cautioned that nobody knows the precise figures.
“It's our estimate, it's not exact, it's not scientific,” Day told a news conference.
The increase could translate into new spending of between $220 million and $240 million to create new prison spaces over the next five years.
“We want to set aside that much,” said Day. “Whether that much will be drawn on, we don't know. We'll have to wait and see.”
Officials said later that the numbers cited by Day referred only to federal prisoners. They estimated nearly 4,000 more offenders could end up doing time in provincial jails for lesser offences.
Toews wouldn't commit to federal funding targeted specifically to help the provinces bear that burden. But he noted that overall transfers went up in this week's budget, and the provinces can spend that money on jails if they wish.
James Morton, vice-president of the Ontario Bar Association, suggested the Tories are low-balling the cost of their measures.
There may be a need for more judges, courtrooms and Crown attorneys, he said, since offenders facing longer terms could insist on going to trial rather than copping a plea.
“If you're going to have a more law-and-order based system, you're going to have to pay for it,” said Morton. “Building more prisons is only part of it.”
Opposition MPs labelled the Tory measures a costly overreaction to the country's crime problems and predicted a spate of challenges under the Charter of Rights if the proposals become law.
Irwin Cotler, the Liberal public safety critic, favoured modest increases of a year or two in gun-related mandatory minimum sentences when he was justice minister. He said the Tory measures set the prison terms far too high.
“They are wrong as a matter of policy and suspect as a matter of law,” said Cotler. “This is not a bill that I would support.”
Dalton McGuinty, the Liberal premier of Ontario, was more receptive, saying the measures will “make a real difference when it comes to promoting safety for our families and our communities.”
But Monte Kwinter, the provincial corrections minister, said he may have to lean on Ottawa to provide more money for overcrowded Ontario jails.
Real Menard, the Bloc Quebecois justice citric, said he's ``concerned” the Tories want to put more people in prison when long-term crime rates have been falling for more than a decade.
NDP justice critic Joe Comartin expressed “serious doubts” that the law as it stands could survive a Charter challenge.
He said the New Democrats agree tougher sentences are needed for some gun crimes, but will try to amend the bill to cut down on the number of mandatory terms.
The minority Tory government will need the support of at least one opposition party to get its bills through the Commons. There could be further hurdles in the Liberal-dominated Senate.
The two bills are just the start of an ambitious law-and-order agenda promised by the Conservatives in the last election campaign.
They pledged to get tough not only on gun crime, but also to impose mandatory minimum sentences for other crimes such as big-time drug trafficking and serious sexual offences.
Toews signalled those measures will be forthcoming in separate bills. “Stay tuned,” he told reporters.
The gun-crime legislation would impose five-year minimums on first-time weapons offenders, seven years on a second-timers and 10 years on multiple offenders.
Other firearm-related offences, such as trafficking and smuggling, and a new offence of committing a robbery to steal a weapon, would be subject to escalating minimum sentences of three to five years.
The bill to restrict conditional sentencing — house arrest and other non-jail penalties served in the community — would leave the ultimate decision to judges in many cases.
But conditional sentences would be banned outright for serious violent and sexual offence, crimes against children and impaired driving causing death or bodily harm.
Tories introduce new anti-crime bills
Thurs May 4, 2006.
Two new anti-crime bills that would impose mandatory minimum sentences and eliminate conditional sentencing for violent offenders will ensure that "serious crimes are met with significant consequences," Justice Minister Vic Toews said Thursday.
"We are changing the focus of the justice system so that serious crime will mean serious time," Toews told a news conference.
Under the proposed legislation, anyone convicted of using a gun while committing a serious, violent or gang-related crime, for example, will receive a minimum sentence of:
* Five years on a first offence.
* Seven years if the accused has one prior conviction of the same type of offence.
* Ten years if they have more than one prior conviction of the same type of offence.
Those convicted of crimes related to possessing or trafficking illegal firearms will receive minimum sentences of three years to five years.
Toews also announced that the proposed bills would eliminate conditional sentencing, known as house arrest, for serious crimes, including violent and sexual offences, major drug offences, drunk driving causing death and crimes against children.
During the news conference, Toews was asked about statistics that show mandatory minimum sentences do little to deter crime. But Toews pointed to U.S. states, where, he said, minimum mandatory sentences have produced a significant drop in crime.
"I'd like to see some of those statistics that say it doesn't work," he said.
Some critics have suggested the legislation will be costly and overload prisons.
Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day said there could be 300 to 400 additional inmates in the next two to four years.
But he said that could change when people realize serious crimes have "grave consequences."
OTTAWA -- The Conservatives introduced a pair of crime bills yesterday that will put an estimated 4,000 more people in jail, even though they watered down their election promises for tougher gun sentences.
The two bills, one to stiffen mandatory minimum sentences for gun crimes and another to eliminate conditional sentences such as house arrest for a long list of crimes, were the first parts of a larger, get-tough-on-crime package promised in the recent election campaign.
Federal justice officials estimate the gun-sentence bill will add 300 to 400 people to the federal prison population, an increase of about 3 per cent. And they estimated as many as 3,800 people a year who would get conditional sentences now will probably go to provincial jail instead -- 15 to 20 per cent more inmates.
"It's difficult to predict an exact number," Public Security Minister Stockwell Day said, arguing that crime might also go down because of the deterrent effect.
Mr. Day said the federal government will set aside $225-million to $245-million over five years to build new federal prisons. But critics said the operating costs will be far higher, and provincial jails and courts will need much more money.
NDP justice critic Joe Comartin estimated that including other justice reforms promised by the government, such as tougher drug sentences and parole conditions, will require an additional $2-billion to $5-billion to build new prisons and $1-billion a year to operate them.
Both the NDP and Bloc Québécois said they will probably vote against the gun-crime sentence bill if it is not amended, while the Liberals said they will study it.
Justice Minister Vic Toews insisted that mandatory minimum sentences have reduced crime in the United States, but the chair of the criminal law section of the Canadian Bar Association, Greg DelBigio, disputed that, and said the laws limit a judge's discretion to apply the fairest sentence.
"The best available data seem to suggest that a high sentence does not deter, and more likely it is the probability of being caught that will deter," he said. "And you increase the probability of somebody being caught by increasing resources to police agencies."
Provinces that pushed for tougher sentences, such as Ontario and Alberta, reacted warmly yesterday.
"I think that Ontarians should take some satisfaction in that their province fought for many years for tougher gun laws," Ontario Attorney-General Michael Bryant said. The province still wants tougher laws for illegal gun possession, and tougher bail conditions for gun crimes, but hopes they will come later, he said.
The federal gun-sentence bill was, in fact, a softening of the Conservatives' election promise for far tougher gun sentences. It was watered down so the law could survive a Charter of Rights challenge in the courts and get political support in the minority Parliament.
They had promised to extend most one-year minimums for crimes such as gun trafficking to five years, and that existing four-year minimums for serious gun crimes such as murder or kidnapping using a gun would be extended to 10 years. But they introduced a more complicated scheme that applies lighter sentences except for repeat offences.
Minimum sentences for eight serious gun crimes, such as kidnapping using a gun, will be toughened from four years to five for a first offence -- but only if the crime is committed using a restricted weapon such as a handgun, or by someone linked to organized crime.
Only someone convicted of a serious gun crime three times would face a 10-year minimum sentence.
"Our position in terms of mandatory minimums, I think, reflects the general principles that we advanced in the election platform, as well as the reality of taking into account the opposition's position on these matters," Mr. Toews said.
Civil servants in the Justice Department argued last year that tough minimums such as those promised by the Conservatives in the election would be struck down by the courts, and yesterday department officials acknowledged that the bill was crafted to meet those concerns.
The bill to limit conditional sentences -- where no jail time is served but conditions such as house arrest or electronic monitoring are applied -- will still allow judges to issue a suspended sentence or probation, but federal officials estimated 50 to 70 per cent will be given jail sentences.
It was supposed to eliminate conditional sentences for "serious, violent, or sexual" crimes, but will, in fact, apply to all crimes that carry a maximum sentence of 10 years or more, including fraud, forgery, and theft of more than $5,000.
That had officials in several provinces, who wanted the changes for violent crimes, poring over the bill to see if it would add many extra white-collar prison inmates that they will now have to house in already crowded provincial jails.
Saskatchewan warns of risk to justice system
OTTAWA -- The percentage of aboriginals in Canadian jails is likely to increase as a result of the federal government's law-and-order measures introduced yesterday, Saskatchewan's Justice Minister says.
Frank Quennell, the Justice Minister in Saskatchewan's NDP government, said measures that require minimum jail times and limit conditional sentences could put at risk the province's unique justice programs aimed at its large aboriginal population.
Aboriginals now make up nearly one in five admissions to Canadian correctional services, far exceeding their representation in the general population of just 3 per cent.
The minister said Saskatchewan, which has the highest percentage of aboriginal residents in the country, has had some success in encouraging the use of penalties focused on native traditions of "restorative justice" rather than prison time.
The programs encourage native communities to find alternatives to jail, such as providing restitution to the victim of a crime, volunteering with a charity or attending counselling or addictions programs.
The changes could also prove difficult for Nunavut, which has similar restorative-justice programs for Inuit offenders, and where jails are already crowded. Records from the Nunavut Court of Justice show that in 2005, territorial judges handed down 203 conditional sentences compared with 189 jail terms.
"I would say that we have probably more conditional sentence orders than most jurisdictions in Canada," said Bonnie Tulloch, the regional director for the federal Justice Department, which prosecutes all crimes in the territory.
Ms. Tulloch acknowledged concerns for public safety, but also listed several instances where conditional sentences make sense. "The reality is, for some people, it is more difficult to serve your sentence in your own community, in your home, under house arrest, than it is to be flown to Iqaluit to [the Baffin Correctional Centre] and then to be flown back . . ."
According to the latest figures from Statistics Canada, which are from the 2003-04 fiscal year, aboriginals accounted for 21 per cent of admissions to provincial jails and 18 per cent of admissions to federal prisons. Aboriginal women make up 30 per cent of all female inmates.
Mr. Quennell said the federal government's measures could lead judges to acquit more people or convict them of lesser offences rather than see them get lengthy sentences.
Other provinces are welcoming the law-and-order package as long overdue. Several justice ministers expressed optimism that the strain on the prisons could be worked out.
In his budget speech on Tuesday, federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said the government is "setting aside funds to expand Canada's correctional facilities to house the expected increase in inmates as a result of changes in sentencing rules."
Provincial ministers say they will have to review the details of the bills to see whether the new laws would have a greater impact on federal prisons, which house those serving sentences over two years, or provincial jails, where detainees are serving less than two years.
Quebec's deputy minister of public security, Johanne Vallée, said Quebec's prisons are already filled to capacity.
"We will need to hold discussions with the federal government," she said. "Sentencing is a matter that the justice system handles and I'm sure it will be on the agenda of the federal-provincial justice ministers meeting in June."
There are currently 70 federal prisons in Canada and 116 provincial jails.
Alberta Solicitor-General Harvey Cenaiko expects the federal Tories' sentencing proposals will put more pressure on the province's correctional facilities, but that it "wouldn't have a huge effect."
Mr. Cenaiko predicts that the federal government will pick up most of the costs because it is responsible for guarding those handed lengthy sentences.
"We welcome those changes and believe they will have a positive impact on the justice system in Canada," Nova Scotia Justice Minister Murray Scott said.
OTTAWA — The Conservative government is gearing up to build new prisons to house the increased number of inmates they expect to send to jail as a result of their law-and-order agenda.
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said Tuesday more prison spaces will have to be built but he did not specify how much his government intends to spend on jails.
The Conservatives are expected to table legislation as early as next week that would increase penalties for drug-related, violent and sexual crimes.
Observers have warned that the measures could saddle Canada's correctional system with untold millions in additional costs.
The Tories say they're preparing for that possibility.
"We are setting aside funds to expand Canada's correctional facilities to house the expected increase in inmates as a result of changes in sentencing rules," Flaherty said.
But Flaherty didn't explain how much the government would set aside.
Some federal officials said that's because the government has yet to pass its crime legislation, and has yet to gauge the financial fallout.
They were clear, however, about what they expect will happen.
"There would be more police officers, more charges, and possibly more people incarcerated," said one government official.
"Obviously that could put a strain on prisons. Perhaps more prisons would need to be built."
A rash of high-profile gun violence — especially in Toronto — thrust crime into the forefront of the recent federal election. The Conservatives, Liberals and NDP promised a crime crackdown, but only the Conservatives came forward with proposals for tougher sentencing measures.
The Conservatives promise to eliminate conditional sentencing for violent crimes. They would also reduce house arrests, install mandatory minimum sentences for a range of drug crimes and replace concurrent sentences for sex crimes with consecutive mandatory sentences.
Convicts could also be declared dangerous offenders after a third violent crime, meaning these repeat offenders could be jailed indefinitely.
But one senior government official downplayed the financial effect.
"It would take a while to see the impact," he said.
"And obviously the desired impact is to see criminals deterred by these new measures, and see a decrease in crime rates."
Concerns are already being raised about two crime bills tabled by the Conservative government in the House of Commons on Thursday.
The legislation, coming in the form of two bills, would introduce mandatory minimum sentences for gun-related and other serious crimes and eliminate house arrest — known as conditional sentencing — for serious, violent and sex-related crimes.
"If criminals are to be held to account, they must face a punishment that matches the severity of their crime," Justice Minister Vic Toews said Thursday.
Criminology experts expressed doubt that such sentencing will do little more than fill the country's prisons.
"This is not going to make me and you any safer," University of Toronto criminology professor Anthony Doob said. "This has nothing to do with making our streets safer and everything to do with politics."
Mr. Doob said he has reviewed a wide body of literature on the effects harshness of sentencing has on reducing crime, primarily in the United States because of the shortage of such literature in Canada. He said the United States has acted as a "big laboratory on mandatory sentences" and the projects all come to the same conclusion.
"They are all very clear that they (mandatory minimum sentences) are not going to have an effect on crime," he said.
Mr. Doob argued that a wide reduction in violent crime across the United States and Canada throughout the 1990s was independent of mandatory sentencing. He said there is no evidence to support the suggestion that heavier sentencing works as a deterrent against violent crime.
He said you could just as likely attribute the reduction in crime over those years to "spitting in the wind."
He said Canada's three national parties, which have all called for mandatory minimum sentencing at some point, have got it wrong.
"Just because the three national parties agree on it doesn't mean it's right," Mr. Doob said.
He added that filling prisons is not a good strategy for tackling crime, because housing prisoners takes away dollars that could be spent on fighting crime. Housing one prisoner in a federal penitentiary, he said, costs more than putting an officer on the street.
The Tories are making it clear that the legislation would add more prisoners into the system, but said they anticipated that it would also work as a deterrent to people considering committing violent crimes.
Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day said the combined effect could be an increase of between 300 and 400 in the national prison population, though he cautioned that nobody knows the precise figures.
"It's our estimate, it's not exact, it's not scientific," Mr. Day told a news conference.
The increase could translate into new spending of between $220-million and $240-million to create new jail space over the next five years, Mr. Day said.
Again, however, he was reluctant to pin down a specific number.
"We want to set aside that much," said Mr. Day. "Whether that much will be drawn on, we don't know. We'll have to wait and see."
Justice Minister Vic Toews said police and the public are fed up with crime.
"When it comes to crime, it is the new government's firm commitment to finally respond to the concerns of police and, most importantly, of ordinary Canadians," Mr. Toews told a news conference.
"We are changing the focus of the justice system so that serious crime will mean serious time."
The legislation will impose five-year minimums on first-time weapons offenders, seven years on a second-timers and 10 years on multiple offenders.
Other firearm-related offences such as trafficking and smuggling and cases of robbery with a stolen weapon will also be subject to escalating minimum prison sentence of three to five years.
"With these two bills, the new government is meeting its commitment to protect Canadian communities and families by tackling gun, gang and drug violence and keeping criminals off the streets," Mr. Toews said.
"I am confident that the actions we are taking today will result in reforms that will mean everyone can feel less threatened by violent crime."
Critics have suggested that the legislation will overload prisons and cost the federal government millions of dollars.
The government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced in Tuesday's budget that it would build a new federal prison and increase jail spaces, something corrections officers agree is a necessity before such legislation is enacted.
Jason Godin, Ontario regional president for the Union of Canadian Corrections Officers, said there are no spaces available in Canadian prisons.
"There are no vacancies these days for medium and maximum-security facilities," he said.
He added he is concerned for the safety of his members. Currently, most prisons have single-bed cells. When those cells have been double-bunked in the past, it has led to increased tensions between inmates and guards.
Likewise, Graham Stewart, executive director of the John Howard Society of Canada, a group representing the interests of inmates, said he is was "disappointed" by the legislation.
He said he is concerned about politicians taking away the discretion of judges to determine sentencing, adding that fair and proportionate sentences would be a better option.
With a report from the Canadian Press
OTTAWA—The federal Conservatives have proposed tough new sentences for gun and gang-related crimes that would swell inmate populations in federal prisons and provincial jails.
The measures — contained in two separate bills — don't go as far as Prime Minister Stephen Harper pledged during the election campaign.
But they were still criticized by opposition parties and criminologists as an overreaction when violent crime rates are falling and too harsh to survive court challenges.
"We are changing the focus of the justice system so that serious crime will mean serious time," said Justice Minister Vic Toews.
One bill would eliminate conditional sentences — including "house arrest" or curfews — as a sentencing option in cases of serious violent and sexual offences, major drug offences, and crimes punishable by jail terms of 10 years or more, such as fraud or theft over $5,000.
For the first time, the government admitted yesterday there would be a profound effect on provincial jails.
Up to 3,600 more offenders could end up doing time in provincial prisons — where jail terms of less than two years are served — because they would now be ineligible for conditional sentences, justice department officials estimate. That number — 3,600 — represents a portion of the 15,493 conditional sentences imposed by Canadian courts in 2003-04. Officials say the number could be as low as 2,500.
The second bill would impose tougher mandatory minimum jail terms — five-, seven- and 10-year penalties — for a range of serious crimes (for example, attempted murder, sexual assault, kidnapping, robbery or extortion) where the presence of guns, organized crime or street gangs is an aggravating factor.
Certain other gun crimes, such as possession, smuggling, trafficking or making prohibited firearms such as a sawed-off shotgun, would draw slightly lesser minimum terms, from three years on a first offence to five years on a second. And another handful of offences would result in one-, three- and five-year minimums.
The bill creates two new criminal offences of robbery where a firearm is stolen, and break-and-enter where a firearm is stolen or sought.
Right now, the law provides mandatory minimum jail terms from one to four years for a handful of firearms offences.
The Tory campaign platform had proposed stricter minimum penalties — automatic five- and 10-year terms — to cover a broader range of some 24 offences, including drug-related offences. Toews said mandatory minimum sentences for serious drug offences are yet to come. "Stay tuned," he told a news conference.
Still to come, too, are promised measures to eliminate an inmate's automatic right to conditional release, upon good behaviour, after serving two-thirds of a prison sentence (called statutory release). That bill is expected to have a big impact on prison populations. Until statutory release is killed, the measures proposed yesterday would not affect an inmate's ability to apply for day or full parole after a third of a sentence, or statutory release at the two-thirds mark in a jail term.
In its initial "crackdown on crime" bills introduced yesterday, the Conservative government moderated its approach in the hopes of winning Commons approval for the controversial proposals. Toews could not put a figure on how much the package would cost, but defended the plan.
`We think it's going to make a real difference when it comes to promoting safety.'
Premier Dalton McGuinty
"Provincial attorneys general have been calling for these measures and they realize there will be some cost implications for them," he told reporters.
Yesterday, Premier Dalton McGuinty said he was "encouraged" by the legislation, which his government has called for since a spate of gun crime erupted in Toronto last year.
"We think it's going to make a real difference when it comes to promoting safety," McGuinty said at a ceremony where the city swore in a graduating class of new police officers.
"I think it's a good example of what we can accomplish when we bring a principles-based approach to a challenge before us, find common ground and then work together toward a solution."
Monte Kwinter, Ontario's community safety and corrections minister, agreed people guilty of gun crimes should be "behind bars" but said the province will seek federal financial help if the law leads to overcrowded jails.
The average stay by an inmate in Ontario jails is 66 days, with most people remanded by the courts and waiting for sentencing. "Basically we are at capacity; sometimes we are over capacity," Kwinter said. "There's no question that if they're sending more people to jail and they're on remand waiting for sentence it's going to put pressure on our facilities."
Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day guessed the imposition of tougher mandatory minimum sentences for gun-and gang-related crimes would increase prison populations by only 300 to 400 inmates a year. "It's not exact; it's not scientific," he admitted.
Day then said it could cost $220 million to $240 million to increase federal prison capacity. The federal budget Tuesday set aside an unspecified amount of money for at least one medium security penitentiary and one maximum security prison.
But Day predicted those costs would be "offset" by a significant deterrent effect on crime. Hours later, his officials scrambled to explain where Day got his numbers, saying he came up with them on his own. "It's just him saying this. It's just from the top of his mind," said Mélisa Leclerc, Day's communications director.
Toews suggested all parties during the campaign supported some form of mandatory jail terms for certain gun crimes, but yesterday the opposition parties were cool to the proposals.
The Bloc Québécois, which has backed the Tory's budget, said flatly it opposes stiffer new minimum jail terms. It prefers to leave some discretion to judges, and instead to toughen up parole provisions. The Bloc criticized the Conservatives' measures as too harsh, citing Statistics Canada figures that show violent crime in Canada decreased from 1994 to 2004 by 9.7 per cent.
Interim Liberal Leader Bill Graham said what is missing is "a balanced approach," including ways to tackle the root causes of crime.
NDP justice critic Joe Comartin said the bill has gone too far, and courts may rule it to be an unconstitutionally harsh punishment scheme.
"We believe there are some charges that are severe involving gun crimes that should have a minimum mandatory. ... Our fear is that if this bill goes through the way it is, it is going to get completely struck down."
However, Toews went out of his way to point out the bill offers a "graduated approach" and predicted it would pass constitutional muster.
The federal government's new anti-crime bills are a political move that could make crime even worse, critics in Newfoundland and Labrador say.
The government proposed two bills last week promising more jail time and mandatory minimum sentences for certain offences. The government also wants to end non-jail conditional sentences for more serious crimes.
However, a former inmate and a defence lawyer both say the move away from conditional sentences is a step in the wrong direction and will likely create more crime.
Rick Anthony, who spent a total of 12 years in custody for assault and other drug and alcohol-related crimes, says his periods of incarceration were not very helpful.
"What jail did for me, it made me resentful, it made me angry," said Anthony. "I always came out very bitter."
Now, Anthony counsels kids on how to avoid making the same mistakes that he did.
Anthony said he is worried that the federal government's move away from penalties such as house arrest will only lead to more crime.
"There was a name put on prison a long time ago and that was called 'Con College,' " said Anthony.
"Guys that go in, especially first-timers, they learn more crime each time they go in."
Criminal lawyer Bob Simmonds said statistics show violent crime is down. He believes the federal government's plan is a political reaction to the fear created by drive-by shootings in Toronto.
"We do have these horrible incidents," said Simmonds.
"But that does not mean our philosophy of conditional sentencing, reformation, rehabilitation [and] restorative justice is not appropriate and a professional type of philosophy to have to ensure, at the end of the day, we're better off.
The federal public safety minister, Stockwell Day, said the proposed changes could see the federal prison population rise by up to 400 inmates in the next two to four years.Source: www.cbc.ca
Related Articles on prisonjustice.ca on Mandatory Minimums
Link to Bill C-9 (Banning Conditional Sentencing): www.parl.gc.ca
Link to Bill C-10 (Mandatory Minimum Sentences & Gun Crimes): www.parl.gc.ca
More information on Mandatory Minimum Sentences: Familys Against Mandatory Minimums (U.S.)