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As crime bill nears Commons finish line, Tories scramble to tweak it

Inmates serve their time a Toronto jail in Feburary, 2011.

Peter Power/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

The omnibus crime bill is expected to clear the House of Commons this week as the Conservatives look for a way to introduce six last-minute amendments to their own sweeping legislation.

After Tory MPs voted against every amendment proposed by the opposition while the bill was in committee, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews tried – but failed – to re-introduce a set of changes originally advocated by Liberal justice critic Irwin Cotler.

A spokesman said the minister hadn't finished speaking with victims of terror when Mr. Cotler's amendments were voted down.

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The changes are intended to allow victims of terrorism to sue not only listed terrorist organizations, but also the states that sponsor them and affiliated groups.

Speaking to the Globe and Mail Wednesday night, Mr. Cotler said the last-minute reversal from the Conservatives is evidence his suggestions weren't properly considered at committee, adding the victims of terror section of the bill should have been dealt with separately.

"It deserves independent consideration and informed debate," he said. "If we'd had that, we wouldn't have this problem."

Once the bill is passed in the House, the Conservatives will have limited options to add the amendments: They can introduce their changes while the bill is in the Senate or introduce new, standalone legislation to make the amendments.

The Conservatives have not yet said what they will do, but Justice Minister Rob Nicholson is scheduled to make an announcement at noon Thursday about the crime legislation.

The bill has faced fierce opposition since it was introduced, from the Association of Police Chiefs to lawyers and human rights advocates. Quebec and Ontario have both threatened not to pay for the added costs of the bill, and Quebec Justice Minister Jean-Marc Fournier twice visited Ottawa to ask the federal government to reconsider the legislation.

The provinces are expected to face higher prison costs because the bill, which includes new mandatory minimum sentences, will keep more people in jail for longer.

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PM, AFN chief meet amid Attawapiskat crisis

Prime Minister Stephen Harper will meet Thursday afternoon Shawn Atleo, the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, to discuss the housing crisis in Attawapiskat.

The Red Cross arrived in the Northern Ontario community last week to offer heaters, sleeping mats and winter clothing after the community declared a state of emergency, and the federal government placed Attawapiskat's finances under third-party management on Wednesday.

Speaking to the CBC Wednesday night, Mr. Atleo said he thinks the federal government shares the blame for Attawapiskat's financial woes. "There are huge issues of accountability, on the government side as well," he said.

He questioned the government's decision to move to third-party management, and said there needs to be a re-thinking of how infrastructure funding for First Nations communities is handled.

"[The idea]that Ottawa knows best what's needed for first nations and imposes its will – that is the legacy of the past that has not worked, and that is the status quo that we must smash," Mr. Atleo said.

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Mr. Atleo's meeting with Mr. Harper was supposed to take place several weeks from now, but was pushed forward because of the crisis in Attawapiskat.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Kim Mackrael has been a reporter for The Globe and Mail since 2011. She joined the Ottawa bureau Sept. 2012. More

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