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Tweaked slightly by Senate, Tory crime bill goes before MPs a final time

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Feb. 13, 2012.

PATRICK DOYLE/Patrick Doyle/Reuters

The Conservative government's omnibus crime bill has returned from the Senate to the House of Commons with amendments that will allow terrorism victims and their families to sue state sponsors of terror.

The amendments are similar to those proposed by Liberal MP Irwin Cotler when the bill was before the Commons justice committee.

They were rejected by the Conservative MPs on that committee and, by the time the government decided they were important additions to the legislation, it was too late to make changes to the bill in the Commons. So it was up to Tories in the Senate, specifically Senator Bob Runciman, to make the amendments.

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The remaining 17 changes suggested by opposition senators were rejected, including a proposal to increase from six to 20 the number of marijuana plants that someone could be caught growing before facing a mandatory minimum sentence of six months.

The Liberal senators also argued the legislation will be particularly harsh on aboriginal offenders who already occupy a disproportionate number of cells in federal and provincial corrections facilities. But the Conservatives would not be swayed.

Mr. Runciman's amendments mean the opposition MPs in the Commons who take issue with many aspects of the bill will have one more day to debate its perceived flaws before it can be passed into law. And the NDP made it clear Tuesday they will take advantage of the opportunity.

Jack Harris, a Newfoundland MP, told reporters his party will once again outline the "errors and mistakes and the wrong-headed approach that this government is taking towards our justice system."

Rather than being tough on crime, Mr. Harris said, the legislation is tough on people who run afoul of the law. It imposes a number of new mandatory minimum sentences which have not proved to act as a deterrent, he said.

The experience in the United States, Mr. Harris said, has shown this kind of "punitive" approach costs a lot of money and fills up prisons but does little to fight crime.

There are some portions of the bill the New Democrats support, including mandatory minimum sentences for sexual predators, he said. "But the general use of mandatory minimums for all sorts of offences is inappropriate."

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The bill also takes away the right to a pardon, calling it a suspension of a criminal record, Mr. Harris said. "That is virtually meaningless out there in the real world," he added.

And the Conservatives are changing the basis of the youth criminal justice system, which was aimed at rehabilitation, he said. This has provoked strong denunciation from criminal justice experts and the province of Quebec.

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson told the Commons on Tuesday that tough sentences do not create criminals, they keep the "existing ones in prison for a more appropriate period of time. We want to make sure there is not a revolving door of justice."

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Gloria Galloway has been a journalist for almost 30 years. She worked at the Windsor Star, the Hamilton Spectator, the National Post, the Canadian Press and a number of small newspapers before being hired by The Globe and Mail as deputy national editor in 2001. Gloria returned to reporting two years later and joined the Ottawa bureau in 2004. More

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