OTTAWA – Public Safety Minister Vic Toews is more concerned with danger than statistics, he told a Senate committee while defending the Conservative government’s controversial and sweeping crime legislation.
“Let’s not talk about statistics,” the minister told the committee tasked with studying the bill. “Let’s talk about danger… I want people to be safe.”
Toews and Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, the ministers behind the wheel of the Conservative law and order agenda went before the committee Wednesday evening, kicking off the extensive hearings into the contentious piece of legislation.
Bill C-10 is an omnibus piece of legislation in which the Conservatives combined several crime bills they failed to pass during their minority days with some new measures.
The bill has been under intense scrutiny, forcing the government to fend off accusations that the bill is based on ideology rather than evidence, that the measures will increase crime and that the costs will be extraordinary — especially for the provinces.
Asked why Canada needs this legislation at a time when crime rates are decreasing, Nicholson told the senators that although that is true, the rates of criminal assault, child pornography, sexual crimes against children and drug-related crimes are going up.
The purpose of this law, Nicholson said, is not to create new criminals, but to ensure the dangerous ones remain behind bars “for an appropriate amount of time.”
The minister, however, left one senator frustrated, who asked Nicholson to explain why the proposed legislation offers a lower mandatory minimum sentence for certain child sex offenders than for people caught growing a specific number of marijuana plants.
The justice minister didn’t explain how the mandatory minimums in the bill were determined, but said they are merely starting points offered to judges when considering sentences.
Regardless, Nicholson told the senators, the legislation does not target teenagers experimenting with marijuana or substance abuse victims, but rather anybody intending to traffic the drug.
Without a single change to the bill first introduced in September, the Conservative majority in the Commons passed late last year with a vote of 157 to 127.
Anxious to push the bill into law, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives have limited debate on the bill at several points during the legislative process, and shut down all amendments opposition MPs suggested.
After the Conservatives refused the proposed changes, Toews tried to introduce some similar to those Liberal MP and former justice minister Irwin Cotler put forward; but the Speaker of the House said it was too late — the government had missed its chance.
With the legislation now at the Senate — also known as a place of “sober second thought” — changes could still find their way in. Any amendments to the bill will be easily passed because the Conservatives also enjoy a majority in that chamber as well.
The Senate legal and constitutional affairs committee has scheduled 11 days of public hearings as it examines the bill, and invited 110 witnesses.
In addition to the ministers, members of the committee will also have the opportunity to question victims and their families, academics, legal experts, law enforcement specialists, youth advocates and other public officials.