For the second time in a week, the federal government has tabled legislation that has prompted criticism from Alberta’s justice minister about Ottawa’s approach to firearms.
On Thursday, Justice Minister Kaycee Madu issued a statement on the Liberal government’s introduction of Bill C-22, which seeks to repeal mandatory minimum penalties for drug offences and some gun-related crimes. The federal government argues the minimum penalties aren’t effective and unfairly impact Indigenous and Black offenders.
“While Ottawa’s new justice bill contains some reasonable measures, I am deeply concerned about the decision to gut tough sentencing provisions for gun crimes,” Madu said in a news release. “Removing tough, mandatory penalties for actual gun crimes undermines the very minority communities that are so often victimized by brazen gun violence.
“I also find it disingenuous for Ottawa to exploit a genuine issue like systemic racism to push through their soft-on-crime bills.”
If passed into law, the Liberals’ legislation would give judges more discretion in sentencing. The Criminal Code stipulates that an offence punishable by a mandatory minimum penalty requires that the judge issue a sentence equal to or greater than the minimum term for that offence, even in cases where imprisonment is not appropriate.
Federal Justice Minister David Lametti said at a news conference that a system of mandatory minimum sentences has not made Canadian communities safer or served as a deterrent to criminals.
“It did not make the justice system more effective or more fair,” he said.
Lametti said Indigenous adults make up about five per cent of Canada’s population but account for 30 per cent of federally incarcerated inmates, adding that is approximately double the percentage it was 20 years ago. He added that Black inmates represent a little over seven per cent of the federal inmate population but only about three per cent of Canada’s population.
“This is shameful,” he said, adding he believes mandatory minimum sentencing is a major contributor to those figures.
Lametti said mandatory minimums don’t allow judges to use their discretion for “low-risk, first-time, non-violent offenders.”
The federal justice minister then offered an example of a young man with a promising career and no criminal record who was living in an isolated northern community. He said the man was out drinking with his friends before “he makes a bad decision that changes his life.”
“On a dare, he fires a hunting rifle into the direction of an empty building,” Lametti said. “No one gets hurt but neighbours notice and call the police. He’s charged and convicted of discharging a firearm while being reckless.”
Lametti said because of mandatory minimum sentencing, the man received four years in prison, losing an apprenticeship and a relationship in the process. He said the man came out of prison with limited opportunities and ended up moving in with people he met in prison.
“This must stop,” Lametti said.
“Once again, Ottawa appears to be going soft on the criminals who perpetuate real gun violence while symbolically targeting law-abiding Canadians,” Madu said.
Watch below: (From Feb. 17, 2021) New legislation to crack down on gun violence is getting pushback in Alberta. Not only are some gun owners feeling targeted, but some municipal leaders are opposed as well. Chris Chacon reports.
Earlier this week, the Liberals tabled legislation that would allow municipalities to effectively ban handguns through bylaws that restrict their possession, storage and transportation.
“For the federal government to gut sentences for real gun crimes just days after scapegoating duly-licensed, law-abiding firearms owners is especially rich,” Madu said on Thursday.
On Wednesday, the federal minister for Indigenous services said it was important to take a closer look at mandatory minimum sentences, adding that incarceration rates for Black and Indigenous people are far higher than the national average.
“These are things that we need to attack in sort of… a holistic approach that includes, most importantly, a review of mandatory minimums which in some cases have been held by the courts to be unconstitutional,” Marc Miller said.
–With files from The Canadian Press’ Jim Bronskill and Joan Bryden