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Illustration by Julia Pankova

Research shows omnibus crime bill is in need of amendments

ON SEPT. 20, the House of Commons heard the first reading of Bill C-10, an omnibus crime bill known as the Safe Streets and Communities Act presented by the Conservative government.  The act, which has received criticism in the House of Commons and from experts in the field, the provinces, and the public, consists of nine bills seeking harsher sentencing for criminal offenders in an effort to lower the crime rate in Canada.

Experts in crime reduction don’t think the bill will have the expected impact on the crime rate, which, according to a report by Statistics Canada, is at an all-time low. Irvin Waller, criminology professor at the University of Ottawa, explained a focus on prevention, not punishment, is needed to reduce crime rates.

“We have, in the last 20 years, developed an incredible knowledge base about what works to reduce crime through prevention,” he said. “It’s very clear that we could, in fact, reduce crime significantly by large amounts, 40–50 per cent over the next 10 years, by using money from [building] prisons on prevention programs.”

Mathen Carissima, associate law professor at the U of O, said Bill C-10 is flawed because it’s not based on scientific evidence.

“This is not a law that’s based in science or sound empirical research,” she said. “It’s motivated by a particular political philosophy. The current federal government has consistently ignored the statistical information about crime.”

Carissima, Waller, and Mauril Bélanger, Liberal MP for the Ottawa-Vanier riding, agreed more consultation with specialists and provinces is necessary before Bill C-10 passes.

“There has been no consultation with the provinces on this,” said Bélanger. “Yes, criminal justice is a federal jurisdiction, but its implementation is a provincial responsibility.

“The government is adamantly opposed to any amendments,” he added. “They asked for some amendments, gave very short notice for people to prepare them, and they’re being discarded out of hand.”

Waller and Bélanger said there is strong evidence collected not just from Canada, but worldwide, suggesting strict sentencing doesn’t deter crime or rehabilitate criminals.

“What works is if you’ve got a prolific offender, during the time he’s behind bars he’s not committing offences,” said Waller. “It’s called the incapacitation effect. That is proven and that is very successful and you can achieve some better results by investing in proven youth programs, mentoring program, parenting programs that will reduce crime.

“There’s nothing like that in C-10. We’re going to be incarcerating young men for longer when we already have very long sentences that can be used if needed and when we should be investing in stopping violence.”

Carissima said although some crimes are hard to prevent, the federal government needs to take a realistic approach to the issue and listen to the advice given.

“We need to be honest about the true state of crime rate,” she said. “The current federal government has consistently ignored the statistical information that crime’s on the decrease. We need to approach the issue in good faith.

“There is room for punishment, punishment has a role,” Carissima added. “But, particularly with youth, it has to be balanced with other types of programming and there’s no evidence that increasing punishment will lower the crime rate.”

Bill C-10 has yet to pass through the House of Commons.

—Jane Lytvynenko