Conservative criticism of Bill C-22 misrepresents motion’s intent

Gary Vidal, Conservative Member of Parliament for Desnethe-Missinippi-Churchill River recently sent constituents a pamphlet which emphatically states that the passing of Bill C-22 puts “our Community at Risk” and calls it the “no more jail time for criminals’ Bill”.
If passed, Bill C-22 will repeal mandatory minimum penalties (MMP) in a number of drug offences. Repealing certain MMPs will help ensure that a person found guilty of an offence is sentenced appropriately. Bill C-22 allows for a greater use of conditional sentences and requires police and prosecutors to consider diversion measures and alternatives to criminal charges for simple drug possession offences.

Before the Harper government came into power, there were mandatory minimum sentences for a total of 24 federal offences. By 2015, that number had tripled. Keeping people in prison longer in overcrowded conditions, along with cuts to programming and the dismantling of transitional supports that assist with community reintegration did nothing to make our communities safer.

Mandatory minimums are often advertised as being ‘tough on crime,’ while in reality, they are toughest on those who are already most marginalized and victimized. Bill C-22 addresses the over-incarceration rate of Indigenous peoples as well as Black and marginalized Canadians.

In 2020, 30 per cent of federally incarcerated inmates were Indigenous adults, despite making up only 5 per cent of the country’s population. The portion of those incarcerated under mandatory minimum penalties has grown from 14 per cent in 2006-2007 to 26 per cent in 2016-2017.

Gary Vidal, the Shadow Minister of Indigenous Services, appears to be out of touch with the community he serves. The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples (CAP) is actively reaching out to municipalities, asking for their support to strengthen Bill C-22. A recent PA Herald article indicates that the Mayor of La Ronge questions whether the money spent to hire three additional RCMP did anything to reduce crime in La Ronge or if the money should have gone to organizations “that reduce crime in different ways.” The Mayor of Saskatoon says in order to have safer communities we need a balance of enforcement and ways to address root causes of crime. The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police applauds the goals of Bill C-22 and the government’s commitment to these societal issues.

It costs taxpayers $70,000 per year to keep someone in jail. The additional cost associated with the Mandatory Minimum sentences would likely have served Canadians better and made our communities safer had it been spent on up-stream initiatives that address the issues that nurture crime… poverty, like a lack of mental health services or substance abuse treatment.

Paula Marshall, executive director of the Mi’kmaw Legal Support Network in Nova Scotia advocates for judges to take a broader look at the systemic factors that lead people to be in trouble with the law in the first place. “Justice in our First Nations communities is not about what’s happening in the courts, justice also includes health policies, it includes educational policies, it includes funding for capacity building and employment. That’s what’s going to bring change in our communities….”

Evelyn Johnson