As a Liberal, if I had the opportunity to be the Prime Minister for a day I would obviously do a lot of things quite differently than the current Prime Minister and his government. However, given that I only have one day, I would have to choose an area of policy that I disagree with the most.
A shiningly controversial example of Harper and his party’s shift further right is Bill C-10, also known as the Safe Streets and Communities Act, but more colloquially known as the Conservative’s ‘omnibus crime bill’. C-10 is drastically changing the Canadian justice system, encompassing a plethora of fundamental changes to Canadian law. To name a few, the addition of new and increased mandatory minimum sentences; new and harsher sentencing principles for young offenders; increased barriers for Canadians detained and serving a sentence abroad wishing to serve the reminder of their sentence at home; and amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act granting the Minister of Immigration broad discretion in denying work permits to any foreign national who is “at risk of abuse”. Through all of these changes, what resonates with most Canadians is the message that the Conservative majority Government is pushing longer, harsher, and stricter sentences – including for youth.
As a Liberal, as a young person, and as a Canadian, I see Bill C-10 not as a necessary crime-slashing measure, but rather as an anachronism, pushed by a government that has very little regard for how Canadians think, or what it truly means to be Canadian.
By taking away power from judges through implementing harsher mandatory sentences, the Conservatives are striping the human side from the law. But, you may say, shouldn’t the law be unbiased? I would counter by arguing that the law, at this level, requires certain bias to function properly. The bias that not having mandatory sentencing allows judges is not one based on race, religion or sex – judges (we can hope) are educated and egalitarian enough not to see those things as being necessary factors in a decisions. But show of remorse, nature of the crime, home situation, etc. are all valid concerns and areas of ‘bias’ that mandatory sentencing does not allow for. In short, by taking power away from judges, we are taking humanity itself out of the law. C-10’s mandatory sentences would drastically inflate sentences for what are considered, in the grand scheme of things, small or petty offences. Judges will no longer be able to make a judgment that best reflects those facts, but rather are pushed into a corner, with any discretion they previously carried reduced significantly.
Another point of concern I have with C-10 is the harsher sentences mandated by this bill for youth. As a young person myself, and especially as one that is interested in the law, I have taken a special interest in how the system deals with young offenders. What I have found and believe to be true is that restorative justice is much more beneficial for young offenders, as opposed to the tough-love model that the Conservatives promote. Even the United States, a country notorious for having the highest rate of incarceration in the world, is beginning to see that this method does not work, and is moving away from it.
As a Canadian, I see much fault in the amendments that C-10 makes to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. It is undeniable that Canada is a nation built largely with the help of generations of immigrants. My mother immigrated to Canada, and my grandparents after her, and one of my proudest Canadian moments was seeing my grandparents take their oath and become Canadian citizens. Outside of my family I see the power of immigrants everywhere, and I recognize that to treat immigrants like second-class citizens is to be hugely ungrateful for their commitment to the building of this great nation. The amendments made by C-10 to the Immigration and Refugee Act allow a broad mandate to deny any foreign national a work permit. These amendments do not specify the factors that are used to target an individual as “at risk” of being exploited within Canada. This leaves too much discretion in the hands of the Immigration Department, compromising the points-system that has defined Canada as a leader in successful and fair immigration for years. In addition to this, is it really fair of us as Canadians to punish foreigners who are vulnerable to abuse in Canada? Why not address the actual source of abuse and exploitation within our country? To me, this seems like a blame-the-victim approach to the exploitation of immigrants and foreign nationals.