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Trudeau says Tory ‘tough on crime’ rhetoric only tough on Black, Indigenous Canadians

Click to play video: 'Reality check on repealing mandatory minimum sentences' Reality check on repealing mandatory minimum sentences
A new law proposed by the Liberal government would scrap some mandatory minimum sentences, as incarceration rates among racialized and Indigenous people far exceed the national average. Mike Le Couteur looks at whether the move would tackle systemic racism in the judicial system. – Feb 20, 2021

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Wednesday that policies the Conservatives claimed were “tough on crime” were “really just tough on Black Canadians and Indigenous Canadians.”

He made the comment during a heated exchange in question period that saw Conservatives accuse the Liberals of planning to “make it allowable for criminals to get house arrest” by repealing policies that broadened the use of mandatory minimum sentences.

“He’s going after law-abiding Canadians but going soft on gangsters,” said Conservative MP Shannon Stubbs before asking: “Will he scrap Bill C-5?”

Trudeau said the government is repealing “failed” Conservative policies.

“They claim to be tough on crime but really they’re just tough on Black Canadians and Indigenous people,” Trudeau said before being drowned out by shouts.

“Our criminal justice reform legislation turns the page on failed Conservative party policies,” he repeated afterwards. “What we need is a system that doesn’t target people because of systemic discrimination.”

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Read more: Liberals move to axe mandatory minimums for some drug, gun offences

Stubbs called that response “shameful,” but also said that Trudeau “wants to make it easier for them [offenders] to stay home among their victims.”

Her caucus colleague, Pierre Paul-Hus, also made similar claims, arguing in French that the bill “will only help street gangs continue their shootings.”

Trudeau said nothing in the bill prevents or changes the requirements for police to charge people, or for prosecutors to pursue convictions in court. He said repealing the policies will address “the over-representation of Black Canadians and Indigenous Canadians in the criminal justice system.”

What is Bill C-5?

Bill C-5 seeks to “repeal certain mandatory minimum penalties, allow for a greater use of conditional sentences and establish diversion measures for simple drug possession offences.”

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It targets a number of changes made under the former Conservative government that expanded the use of mandatory minimum sentences to dozens of additional criminal offences.

Read more: Mandatory minimums for gun crimes unconstitutional: Supreme Court

Mandatory minimums have been clearly shown to disproportionately impact Black, Indigenous and racialized Canadians, according to the Research and Statistics Division of Justice Canada.

Data published in 2017 looked at incarcerations over a 10-year period from 2006/2007 to 2016/2017 — which coincides with the date former prime minister Stephen Harper took office in January 2006, and the first full year following the Liberal win in October 2015.

According to the data set, during that time period “the proportion of Indigenous offenders increased most dramatically, from 20 per cent of admissions in 2007/08 to 25 per cent in 2016/2017.”

“Over the ten year study period, Black and other visible minority offenders were much more likely to be admitted with a conviction for an offence punishable by an MMP,” the research stated, using the acronym for “mandatory minimum penalties.”

Of the offences where the individual was behind bars for a mandatory minimum, 75 per cent of those cases were drug offences, with 89 per cent of the drug offences being for trafficking.

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Five per cent of the admissions were for robbery with a firearm.

A previous Liberal bill seeking to repeal the policies died when the government called the election.

Justice Minister David Lametti re-introduced the legislation in December 2021.

Click to play video: 'Liberals move to axe mandatory minimums for all drug and some gun offences' Liberals move to axe mandatory minimums for all drug and some gun offences
Liberals move to axe mandatory minimums for all drug and some gun offences – Dec 7, 2021

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