The crime bill, by Yukon numbers

The third reading of the federal omnibus crime bill is happening in Ottawa today. The vote will be held Monday. If it passes, an impact will be felt in the Yukon, the territory's Justice department said.

The third reading of the federal omnibus crime bill is happening in Ottawa today.

The vote will be held Monday.

If it passes, an impact will be felt in the Yukon, the territory’s Justice department said.

But the changes will be manageable, said spokesperson Dan Cable.

The biggest and most likely effects in the territory will be on the number of inmates at the prison and the stresses on the court system, he said.

But the effect will be small because the Yukon’s numbers are so small, he added.

It is the bill’s effective reversal of the Supreme Court of Canada’s 1999 “Gladue” decision that will cause the biggest changes.

That 12-year-old decision instructed sentencing judges to consider things other than imprisonment and “pay particular attention to the circumstances of aboriginal offenders.”

Bill C-10 restricts the use of conditional sentences – such as probation and house arrest – which are widely used in the territory.

On average, there are about 700 people a year serving a sentence in the communities, said Cable.

Approximately 80 people are on conditional sentences, he added.

And of those people, 52 per cent are aboriginal, 82 per cent are male.

The bill also proposes mandatory minimum sentences for some drug offences, so there will likely be an impact felt in that area as well, said Cable.

Of those people on conditional sentences in the territory, seven per cent are from drug offences.

And 28 per cent are from serious, violent crimes, which is a main focus of the omnibus bill.

It is assumed these affected Yukoners will be put in jail, instead of returning to their communities or families and reporting to a probation officer.

But the territory’s newest jail can handle it, said Cable.

“The correctional centre can bunk up to just over 160 inmates and our current average count right now is less than 80,” he said. “So we can absorb that.”

The jail was built for the next 50 years, and for a growing population, Cable added.

Plus, costs will be minimal because the cost to run the facility won’t change much whether there’s one inmate or 100. Costs for food and clothing are minimal.

More troubling effects of this bill on the territory’s justice system will be felt in the courts, said Cable.

“It will be likely that we’ll have longer proceedings before the court,” he said. “More court costs, more legal aid costs. Because there’s just more at stake.”

People will be less likely to plead guilty because things like conditional sentences can’t be offered and mandatory minimums will be applied, added Cable.

“But again, it’s just the simple matter of small numbers in Yukon,” he said.

Among many other things, critics of the Conservative government’s crime bill say it ignores work being done to make justice more aware of things like Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder – work the Yukon has often led.

A main indicator of those efforts is the territory’s community wellness court; a supportive court intended to help people who genuinely want to change their lives, said Cable.

But Cable doesn’t think the bill will jeopardize much.

Numbers in that court are even smaller – last year, only about 50 people were referred to it, said Cable, many of whom suffer from FASD.

Very few of them were charged with serious and violent crimes, he said.

Plus, to get into the community wellness court, people must plead guilty, said Cable.

The omnibus bill is a combo-pack of past legislation, much of which didn’t make it through three votes in the past.

Harper campaigned on the fact the nine-in-one bill would be passed within 100 days of the Parliament’s session.

If passed, it will be law by Christmas.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at

roxannes@yukon-news.com

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