September 12th, 2014 - 10:45am
Just about everyone stands in firm opposition to crime. It is a position with roots in a sense of fair play and the golden rule as well. In politics the accusation of being soft on crime is a big time attack. For some people there is no room for any position beyond that of a hawk. Should this sentiment be enough to excuse mistakes in legislation that almost guarantees tough legal challenges of their own? Is it enough to have a flashy title with no substance related to the item be set in law?
To hear the Conservatives tell it, they are tough on crime, but scratch the surface and they are being very careless by passing legislation that will only lead to problems down the road. Just this summer they managed to send the wrong version of a bill to the Senate and followed that with another bill that has such serious errors that it will result in court challenges instead of convictions. Despite these problems the Senates passed both bills instead of sending them back to the House of Commons.
So much for sober second thought as we get more than a glimpse of how the Prime Minister’s Office is pulling most of the strings in the Senate. But the Senate as a rubber stamp is only part of the problem. A bigger issue is the use of a majority government to stifle criticism and every effort to improve legislation. It has created a tone-deaf culture that allows errors to slip through while creating unnecessarily weak legislation.
Crime bills should be air-tight. They can change people’s life forever and should be able to do the job they are said to be doing. Not for these Conservatives. The first bill the Senate passed (the wrong version one) is called the Fairness for Victims Act and is meant to be a victims bill of rights – but with sections relating to those rights missing from the version debated in the Senate it is a bill that is long on title and short on action. The other bill is related to gangs and has such critical language errors that pretty much guarantee rough legal challenges instead of convictions for gang recruitment.
Why didn’t the Justice Department catch these problems? While it may be due to be being understaffed and over-worked it is also related to the way the Harper government uses Private Member’s Bills to get around legislative over-sights like the amount of time a bill is studied at committee. You wouldn’t want a Private Member’s Bill to deliver our budgets, so why is it okay to have them determining who goes to jail?
A big part of the answer has to do with the Conservative’s need to have a bogey man to use for fundraising purposes. A natural source has been their parliamentary opponents, but we are seeing them use the Supreme Court as their foil as other motivating avenues dry up. We have to ask ourselves if they are creating bad legislation with the hope that the Supreme Court sends them back to the drawing board. As cynical as that sounds, it could well be the case.
At the end of the day we need the Minister of Public Safety and the Justice Department to craft our laws so they are able to protect Canadians. If the government wants to play around the margins and campaign endlessly it shouldn’t be done by tying up our courts with bad or incomplete laws. Nobody wants to embolden criminals, but not everyone is as comfortable as the Conservatives are using legislative sleight of hand to hand to suit their needs before those of the public.