Parliament has already passed legislation that establishes mandatory minimum sentences for impaired driving and serious firearms offences. Now, another bill focused on organized drug crimes is before the Senate.
Mandatory minimums will lead to longer sentences behind bars and require additional prison space. But NDP justice critic Joe Comartin says there are also additional prosecution costs to mandatory minimum sentences.
"People are not going to plead guilty," he said. "We're not going to have plea bargaining arrangements because the prosecutor basically has nothing to offer the accused person in terms of a reduced sentence. So we end up with many more trials."
Provinces pick up most of the tab for trials, including the bills for security, stenographers, court time, some judges and provincial prosecutors.
Federal authorities prosecute most drug crimes in Canada. And with the drug bill before the Senate, the Conservative government has already set aside $33.5 million over five years to support the prosecutors who work for the Public Prosecution Service of Canada.
But provincial attorneys general say that, so far, they're not getting any additional funds from the federal government to cover the costs of additional trials.
New Brunswick Attorney General Kelly Lamrock says he expects his province alone will incur an extra $2 million a year in prosecutorial costs.
"In our province we've gotten our crime rate down. We've done it by being tough on the causes of crime as well as being tough on criminals when they deserve it," he said.
"If they're going to pass on millions of costs, on doing it their way, New Brunswickers would respectfully ask that if they're overruling us on the best way to keep ourselves safe, then frankly they should gamble their dimes on it."
He says the federal government has not yet acknowledged these extra costs.
"The only response we got is someone said, 'Well, we've increased funding for the health-care system, so you should be able to absorb it.' But obviously those calculations weren't done with this in mind."
Transfer payments increasedA spokeswoman for the federal justice minister says the government increased transfer payments to the provinces this year.
In an email to CBC News, Pamela Stephens says, "Canadians lose faith in the criminal justice system when they feel that the punishment does not fit the crime."
Saskatchewan Attorney General Don Morgan says his province wholeheartedly supports the federal legislation but has not determined what the costs will be.
"We don't know and won't know until it's been operational for awhile," he says. "But there's no doubt it will increase the time demands on prosecutors and the time requirements on our court system."
Morgan says the prosecutorial costs will probably be manageable, adding that provinces must do their part to crack down on crime. However, he said he has some concern about what the rules could mean for prisons.
"The one that's going to be a little harder to manage in most provinces is going to be the correctional facilities," he said, noting that most provinces are now operating at or near capacity.
"So if you had something that all of a sudden imposed a significant increase, that's really going to create some challenges."
Manitoba Attorney General Andrew Swan says he too is supportive of the federal government's tough-on-crime agenda, though it could lead to more demand for legal aid. Swan says the government used to be an equal partner in funding the program.
"Successive federal governments have choked that legal aid system so that, now in Manitoba at least, the federal government is paying about 20 per cent of the total cost."
"If there is the prospect of a mandatory minimum sentence, it may put more pressures on that area," he added. "We have a very good legal aid system here in Manitoba. We plan to keep it that way, but we could certainly use federal help."
Kelly Lamrock says all of these issues will be raised this weekend when Atlantic Canada's attorneys general meet in Newfoundland.
I am completely opposed to mandatory minimum sentences and believe they should be abolished as they have no place in our justice system. They treat certain crimes and criminals as if they are equal, when they are very different. They leave judges with zero discretion in considering all circumstances of the offender and the crime, in determining an appropriate sanction. They also lead to further prison overcrowding, as more people are being imprisoned for longer periods of time. This does not create safer communities and is not in our best interests. Longer sentences have been shown to increase the rates of re-offending due to the negative prison environment, subculture and influences and decrease the likelihood of successful reintegration because inmates become dependent, institutionalized, and are released with no rehabilitation and little assistance in reintegration, employment and housing. Also with mandatory sentences, there is likely to be more trials and more clogging of the courts. Nobody wants to plea bargain or plead guilty to a crime which carries a minimum prison sentence, so they are more likely to fight the crime in a trial. This will be expensive and ineffective and only cause more backlogs. All individuals learn in prison is how to be dependent, how to survive in prison, how to be angrier and violent and how to better conceal crimes. Prisons are the schools of crime.
If we are truly invested in preventing and reducing crime, we need to address the root causes and contributing factors such as mental illness, addictions, unemployment, poverty, family violence, negative peer influences, gangs, etc. Prisons are ineffective at addressing these causes, preventing, reducing or deterring crime.
If mandatory sentences worked, then the US should be the safest country in the world. There is no research or evidence to show that mandatory sentencing has any positive effect on crime rates or recidivism. So why are we implementing a policy which is ineffective and which has no evidence or support for its effectiveness?
The crime rate in Canada has been declining since 1991, so our system WAS working to reduce crime with the Liberals. Why do we need to make more mandatory sentences and get tougher on crime when the system wasn't broken or in need of change? Mandatory sentences will not do anything to reduce crime.
Currently our prison system does not rehabilitate, when this is where the most emphasis should be placed. Prisons do not prevent, reduce or deter crime. We need to improve prison conditions, focus on rehabilitation and reintegration, provide assistance upon release, give prisoners more rights and less deprivations and imprison less people for shorter sentences. Aboriginals, addicts, the mentally ill, drug, property and non-violent offenders should always have the least restrictive sanction considered and very rarely be sentenced to prison. Prisons currently cause recidivism rates to increase. That is not effective.
Harper's billion dollar failure "get tough on crime" approach is costing Canadians and isn't solving any problems. It is not a long term solution to crime. MMS appear to be doing something but in reality, have little to no impact on addressing crime in Canada and its causes. The Conservative approach has been a proven failure. Why do Canadians continue to support a government with a record of complete failure regarding crime and justice and an apparent policy of lying to the public about everything? They make their crime policies based on a perceived fear in the public (which is not rational, but only due to the media sensationalizing rare, violent and unusual crimes), and the policies are based on emotions, not reason, logic or rationale. Their crime and justice policies are not evidence-based. If you want more failure and less safe communities, then by all means, keep voting right-wing!
MMS will not work and they never have. Just look at the US! They not only are expensive but they also do not reduce crime! Did Harper even read the research and stats that say crime is DECLINING in Canada and has been for 25 years? Why do we need more MMS?
Here are some comments from CBC.ca that I enjoyed:
The two camps on the crime issue can be simplified as follows:
Those who view criminals as worthless animals better off dead, and those who see criminals as human beings with complex and often insane reasoning for their actions.
I suspect both sides are as often right as they are wrong. Of course there are those criminals who are much more like animals - without remorse, without emotion, without compassion or an ounce of humanity - but this is not every criminal.
The vast majority of people we have behind bars are there for the simple fact that they are addicts like many people are, only we don't arrest people for gambling away their life savings or shopping till they drop.
The conservatives would love us all to believe that anyone in prison is a dangerous thug beyond all hope, because then we'll want them all locked away forever - more prisons, more guards, more convicts released on society without skills, without having had treatment for their addiction, to keep the cycle going on and on and on.
Should our goal not be to reduce the number of people locked up in prisons? I guess if we see there are millions of Canadians locked in prison, than justice must be working, and we must be safe!
Meanwhile, corporate criminals get to quietly retire to their private islands on money they never paid any taxes on.
What both camps need to come to realize is that everyone wants less crime. We've seen crime rates steadily decline decade after decade, but our prisons are still busting full. What is the societal incentive to decrease crime if the decrease of such results in the politicians inventing new crimes to lock us up for to keep feeding the prison machine?