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With only about 10 days to go until election day, there has been very little discussion of anything to do with criminal justice in this campaign. The issue did not come up in the televised debates. The only party leader who has spoken at all about crime is Conservative Andrew Scheer, whose proposals to limit bail have been derided by criminal lawyers as exhibiting ignorance of how the system actually works and of what the bail law is supposed to do.
Party websites have little to say
The official party websites have very little to say on criminal justice. The Liberal platform lists gun control as one of its 3 key promises but otherwise does not mention criminal justice in its condensed version. The Conservative party website does not include a platform as of the writing of this post. The NDP New Deal lists Justice as one of nine areas under ‘The Courage to Do What’s Right’, which itself is one of seven major areas in the overall platform. Under this heading they mention 4 proposals (see below). The Green platform has 8 major headings with various subheadings, none of which has much to say about criminal justice.
Even the various analyses of the parties’ commitments have little to say on the issues. Various sites comparing the party proposals are more interesting in how different they are in what topics they choose and what they actually say. BNN/Bloomberg has a website that compares the parties on 16 policy areas – but criminal justice is not one of them. The CBC comparison has a section on Guns, dealing with gun control proposals, but nothing on other criminal justice issues. The National Post compares 18 policy areas, one of which is Crime but which includes only a small number of commitments.
Macleans analysis the most complete
The most comprehensive analysis is the comparison by Macleans’ magazine, which has 25 policy areas, one of which is Public Safety and National Security (which deals with commitments on gun control, surveillance, gangs and hate crimes) and another is Justice. The Justice heading is the basis for the following commitments.
Macleans reports that the Liberals are committed to:
- Provide free legal aid to survivors of sexual assault and intimate partner violence
- Establish an independent Criminal Case Review Commission to review wrongfully convicted applications
- Require all judges in Canada undertake mandatory training on sexual assault law
- Implement mandatory training on unconscious bias and cultural competency for all judges in Canada
- Support provinces/territories to hire as many as 425 new Crown prosecutors, and 225 new judges, to help reduce delays
- Make drug treatment court the default option for first-time non-violent offenders charged exclusively with simple possession
There is no mention of Liberal commitments from 2015 to reduce or eliminate mandatory minimum sentences, to improve parole, to reduce the number of Aboriginal people in jail, to reduce numbers of people held on remand, or to reform the pardon system, even though there were consultations and discussion papers issued on those issues over the last few years. And no mention of the sweeping promises to improve conditions in prisons that were suggested in the mandate letter given to the current Commissioner of Corrections.
The Conservatives, according to Macleans, have promised to:
- Introduce a mandatory sentence of five years in prison code for possession of a smuggled firearm (source)
- Ensure that anyone found to divert legally purchased guns into criminals’ hands will face up to 14 years in prison and a lifetime ban from owning firearms (source)
- Require those on parole to cut ties with gangs (source)
- Identify known organized crime and gang organizations in the Criminal Code (source)
- Implement a minimum five year sentence for ordering or participating in violent criminal activity (source)
- Bring in mandatory sentences in federal prison for directing gang crime (source)
These are the same failed ‘tough on crime’ policies of the last Conservative government, many of which have been struck down by Canadian courts.
The NDP platform offers the following:
- Give trial judges greater discretion in criminal sentencing by reducing reliance on minimum sentences (source)
- Expunge convictions for minor cannabis possession from Canadians’ criminal records, instead of requiring them to obtain pardons (source)
- Increase federal funding for legal aid (source)
- Ban carding, a.k.a. “street checks,” by federal law enforcement officers (source)
The Greens suggest:
- Decriminalize all drug possession (source)
- Eliminate mandatory minimum sentences (source)
- Pass legislation to end solitary confinement (source)
- Repeal Section 159 of the Criminal Code (anal sex/sodomy) (source)
- Reform sex work laws to make the industry legal and public (source)
More attention needed
Criminal justice affects many Canadians. Something like 4 million Canadians have some kind of criminal record, and if we add in family members then most Canadians have a connection to someone who has gone through the criminal justice system. It is disappointing that an area which accounts both for significant public and private expenditure and significant human suffering has not received more attention in the election. If most of the commitments of the Liberals, NDP and Greens were combined, the result could be a pretty reasonable strategy. But given how little was done in the last 4 years, it is hard to feel optimistic.