Lawyers say no to crime bill

On Jan. 27 a story ran in the Yukon News in which Justice Minister Mike Nixon stated that he did not think the omnibus crime bill will be a problem for the territory.

On Jan. 27 a story ran in the Yukon News in which Justice Minister Mike Nixon stated that he did not think the omnibus crime bill will be a problem for the territory.

With respect, the Canadian Bar Association and particularly, the criminal law section of the Yukon branch of the CBA, strongly disagrees and we are not in support of Bill C-10.

The bill is actually titled The Safe Streets and Communities Act, which is ironic considering the Yukon and Canada have some of the safest streets in the world and an overall declining crime rate. Many years of research have shown what actually reduces crime: a) addressing child poverty, b) providing services for people with mental illness or FASD, c) diverting young offenders from the adult justice system, d) rehabilitating prisoners and helping them reintegrate into society.

Bill C-10 will actually eliminate conditional sentences for minor and property offenders and instead send those offenders to jail. Mandatory minimums replacing conditional sentences will victimize the most vulnerable by shipping people from remote, rural and northern communities far from their families to serve time.

In the Yukon, aboriginal people are already overrepresented in the justice system. According to the Yukon Department of Justice pamphlet Facts 2011, page 20, in 2010 the number of First Nation individuals incarcerated at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre was 185 (75 per cent) versus 61 nonFirst Nation individuals. The 2006 Census of Canada noted that 25 per cent of the Yukon’s population identified themselves as aboriginal.

Bill C-10 further criminalizes not only aboriginal people, but also people who are poor, mentally ill and disabled (for example, FASD) who are already overrepresented in the Yukon and federal justice systems. Bill C-10 does this by increasing the punishments for more crimes and by limiting the discretion of our judges who are in the best position to look at the individual factors of each case at sentencing.

Restorative justice practices have been embraced by all of the participants in the Yukon justice system: that is, by the RCMP, Yukon courts, Legal Aid, aboriginal court workers, probation officers, both the federal and territorial prosecution service, and others. All of these groups have worked very hard for many years to address the root causes of crime and to develop positive, constructive responses to the social problem of crime. The Yukon’s Community Wellness Court is an effective and positive example of this approach.

Increasing mandatory minimum sentences and building bigger and better jails does not reduce crime. Ironically, evidence shows this “tough on crime” approach has increased crime rates and incarceration costs in the states of Texas and California. Both of these jurisdictions have since changed their course.

The bill is a regressive step and will undermine the helpful guidelines on sentencing from the Supreme Court of Canada in the R. v. Gladue case, the important ongoing work on reconciliation that all Canadians have a stake in, and the work that our local branch volunteers and Yukon Justice officials have done on ways to address the needs of people with FASD in our justice system.

The CBA presented a 100-page submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee and Justice and Human Rights on Oct. 18 and again on Nov. 3, 2011. It was endorsed by both defence lawyers and prosecutors. Representatives of the Yukon branch of the CBA would be happy to meet with Justice Minister Nixon and our member of Parliament, Ryan Leef, to further discuss our concerns with this bill.

David Christie and Melissa Atkinson, Co-chairs, Criminal Law Section

Norah E. Mooney, president, Canadian Bar Association-Yukon Branch