Yukoners protest federal crime bill

After hearing speakers at Occupy Vancouver, Kim Melton returned to Whitehorse determined to speak up. She opposes Bill C-10, the Safe Streets and Communities Act.

After hearing speakers at Occupy Vancouver, Kim Melton returned to Whitehorse determined to speak up.

She opposes Bill C-10, the Safe Streets and Communities Act, better known as the conservative government’s omnibus crime bill, which has been widely criticized by lawyers, advocacy groups and opposition critics.

“There’s a lot of really frightening things in the bill, and part of the problem is that there are so many changes and substantive changes to legislation in the bill, and it’s not getting nearly enough time in committee – it’s being really pushed through Parliament,” she said.

The Canadian Bar Association, which represents 37,000 lawyers across Canada agrees.

“Instead of receiving a thorough review, Bill C-10 is being rushed through Parliament purely to meet the ‘100-day passage’ promise from the last election,” a November 17 release from the association said. “Expert witnesses attempting to comment on over 150 pages of legislation in committee hearings are cut off mid-sentence after just five minutes.”

This bill will make problems worse for the justice system in Canada, the association’s release said. “It could eventually create the very problems it’s supposed to solve.”

The nine-in-one reform package would amend 15 government acts and establish another one – the Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act.

A standing committee study finished its review on Wednesday, and the bill is expected back in the House for a final vote next week.

Melton, who organized a protest outside of Ryan Leef’s office Friday at noon, is asking the territory’s MP to vote against the bill.

He will not.

But it’s a vote that stays true to his campaign commitments to toe the Yukon line, not the federal Conservative Party line, said Leef.

“It was a bill that I campaigned on,” he said. “It was a campaign commitment that our government had run on – that I had run on. In that respect, Yukoners made a choice.

“I’m not minimizing the voice of some Yukoners that are obviously not happy with it. I heard that during the debates, I heard that on doorsteps. But what we can’t confuse is that, because there’s a protest or because a portion of the Yukon people are outspoken against it, there aren’t people in favour of it.”

Leef doesn’t think the bill will affect Yukoners all that much anyway, he said.

Most of the stronger aspects of the bill apply to serious, violent crimes the Yukon doesn’t see many of, he added.

Jenny Cunningham, an independent defence lawyer in the territory, disagrees.

Her main concern is the negative effect this bill will have on marginalized groups and for the Yukon, that means the stark over representation of aboriginal people in the justice system.

“Ten years ago, the Supreme Court of Canada told us there was a problem we need to fix and now, this would be taking a step backwards,” she said.

She is referring to the 1999 “Gladue” decision that requires sentencing judges to “consider all available sanctions other than imprisonment and to pay particular attention to the circumstance of aboriginal offenders.”

It is something judges in the Yukon have been doing, she said, by taking real judicial note of the effects of residential schools and FASD.

With the bill’s proposed mandatory minimum sentencing, among other things, it “ties the hands” of judges in the territory who do go out to the communities and understand the unique circumstances, she said.

It’s just one aspect, of a lot of material in the bill, that deserves more review and attention before being made into law, she added.

RELATED:Read the Canadian Bar Association’s letter.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at

roxannes@yukon-news.com

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