By Patrick Ducharme, for the Annual Conference of the Ontario Criminal Lawyer’s Association.
In 2011 the Federal government introduced into law its first significant foray into omnibus criminal law with its Get Tough on Crime legislation. This was a series of new crime legislation bearing latitudinous titles such as the Truth in Sentencing Act, or, Standing Up for Victims of White Collar Crime Act. This writer, in a weak moment of sentimental liberalism, described the Get Tough on Crime agenda as having the unclean odour of politics all over it. The agenda played to the public’s irrational fears and did so in the face of an ever-developing and now overwhelming body of literature going to suggest that harsher sentences lead, if anywhere, to the same or more crime, not less. It was further suggested that the agenda was contrary to the accumulated wisdom of our finest judges, who were being told, in unmistakable terms, that they could not be trusted to exercise their discretion reasonably, competently, and compassionately. These legislative amendments appeared to represent the government, like the crayfish, crawling backwards into the future.
On the 13 th day of March, 2012 at 3:32 p.m. the Speaker of the House announced proudly that the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, signified royal assent by written declaration to Bill C-10, an omnibus crime bill. As of that moment the Conservative government transformed the country’s legal landscape, particularly for those practicing in the field of criminal law. And, the transformation occurred within the first 100 sitting days of the new government, as promised. With this declaration all the ideological arguments offered in opposition to this legislation were swept aside and rendered exotically ornamental rather than practical. While considered by many to mimic the failed U.S. experiment into “tough love” for its nation’s criminals, the arguments against these get tough provisions crashed and burned like an old house devoured by hungry flames. So, this year, no more philosophizing on what should be; instead let us focus on what is.
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