In 2006, Stephen Harper became Prime Minister of Canada and declared a “tough on crime” agenda. Since then, the Harper Government has pledged to aggressively tackle crime by increasing the jail sentences and restrictions for individuals convicted of violent crime. As a result, Canada has witnessed an increase in crime legislations over the last decade. The government has taken necessary measures to tighten up sentencing and bail for serious gun crimes, increased monitoring of high risk offenders and abolished the faint hope clause (which enabled early parole for murderers). In addition, the Harper Government also introduced legislation to end the practice of the 2 for 1 credit for time served in pre-trial custody. In May 2015, the Harper government announced further efforts to combat crime with the introduction of Bill C-60 – the Removal of the Serious Foreign Criminals Act.
“What we are seeking to do is close the loopholes in our Canadian law between our organizations that are being actually exploited by criminals who have been found guilty and who are basically taking those gaps to stay longer and, as we have seen here, constitute a bigger threat to our country,” stated Steven Blaney, Minister of Public Safety.
Prior to the proposed legislation, the Criminal Code allowed non-Canadian criminals to use various forms of the law to circumvent the justice system by dragging out the removal process for a number of years through numerous legal channels, appeals and motions. In doing so, some of the serious offenders were able to receive pardons and granted record suspensions that would allow these criminals to be rehabilitated back into Canadian society. In some instances, some criminals have even chosen to remain in prisons rather than be deported to their country of origin to face trial or incarceration there.
The proposed Bill C-60 consists of three main components. First, the legislation will speed up the process of removing convicted felons who have committed serious crimes on Canadian soil. Second, the government plans on increasing its ability to transfer criminals to their country of origin to serve their sentence without the consent of the convicted felon. Third, refugees receiving protection in Canada who have committed serious crimes will have their protected status revoked and are ineligible to receive benefits from Canada’s protection once they are deported.
Furthermore, the proposed legislation will make non-Canadians and certain permanent residents convicted of serious offences ineligible to receive pardons or record suspensions. Moreover, the Bill would make amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, Criminal Records Act, International Transfer of Offenders Act and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act. These changes were intended to provide a legal basis for removing foreign criminals from Canada in a timely and effective manner. “We are addressing challenges that prevent us from effectively removing foreign criminals who have broken our laws and abused the generosity of Canadians,” re-iterated Minister Steven Blaney in a recent interview.
Harper’s tough on crime agenda has been met with a wide range of criticisms. In Canada’s current economic state, critics cite the need for policy priorities to be focused more on the economy that will create meaningful jobs for Canada. The Federal Government has consistently identified crime as a priority despite the fact that crime has been on a downward trend across the country. According to Statistics Canada , crime rates, particularly violent crime rates, have been on the decline over the last 20 years. Yet, the Federal Government has continued to suggest that serious crime is endemic throughout Canada.
Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney has pointed out that “by allowing the mandatory transfer of foreign criminals to serve the remainder of their sentence in their home country and with the other measures being brought forward today, our government continues to keep our streets and communities safer for Canadian families.”
Even though Bill C-60 might address certain issues within the justice system and ensure safer communities, critics suggest Harper’s tough on crime agenda is obsolete and the government’s policy priorities should be shifted towards the economy and the progressive values shared by many Canadians.