The Conservatives introduced their comprehensive crime bill, which promises to crack down on child sexual offenders, drug traffickers and curb the use of house arrest in sentencing.
The Safe Streets and Communities Act amalgamates several pieces of legislation the federal government had tried to pass while they held a minority government.
Among the changes are mandatory minimum sentences for sexual offences involving children, most of which would now require at least one year in prison.
The government is also moving to end house arrest for drug traffickers and impose minimum sentences for drug production under certain circumstances.
For example, anyone caught growing more than five marijuana plants would face six months in jail.
Local MP Brent Rathgeber said getting to small-time marijuana growers before they become big-time growers helps control the problem.
“Marijuana trafficking and growing is sort of the grease that keeps the wheels of organized crime going, so some of these smaller operators eventually mature into larger operators,” he said. “We are making a concerted effort to nip this in the bud for people who grow and traffic in marijuana.”
Rathgeber said house arrest for trafficking, as well as arson, sexual assault and a host of other offences doesn’t do enough to discourage the crime.
It’s also about the victims, he added.
“We hear frequently that victims are offended by those types of sentence to the point where the administration of justice is put into disrepute,” he said.
When sentences like that are handed out for crimes like these it gives people less incentive to come forward and report them, he said.
The bill also encompasses changes to the pardon system, raising from three years to five years the amount of time a person has to wait before applying for a pardon in less serious crimes and from five years to ten years for serious crimes.
Rathgeber concedes this might make it difficult for offenders to become employed, if they are still carrying a criminal record, but he said the government is shifting its focus when it comes to crime legislation.
“The overriding philosophy of all of this legislation is to de-emphasize the rights and interests of the offenders and re-emphasize the rights and interests of victims and society,” he said.
Opposition politicians have raised concerns about the cost of the legislation in terms of longer prison terms, but Rathgeber said that misses the bigger picture of reduced costs to society for crime overall. He said studies have estimated the cost in lost work time and property damage at almost $1 trillion.
“What no one ever talks about is the cost of crime on a macro sense,” he said.
The government would attempt to get the legislation passed in the fall session and within the 100 sitting days of parliament the prime minister promised during the election, Rathgeber said. He said they don’t want to rush it through, but he notes the legislation has been studied before.
“I think the 100-day goal is achievable,” he said, “but it far from a certainty.”