Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould's office pointed out that hybridizing offences is expected to reduce delays and 'is not about lowering sentences'

Liberal MP and justice committee member Randy Boissonnault with Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould

Bowing to appeals from advocacy groups and pressure from Conservatives, Liberal MPs have voted to remove clauses from a justice bill that would allow prosecutors to choose lower maximum sentences for terrorism offences.

The votes took place Wednesday in the House of Commons justice committee, and come after controversy over the “hybridization” of Criminal Code offences.

Hybridizing offences is meant to reduce court delays by allowing prosecutors to choose a summary conviction, which proceeds in the lower court and takes less time — but only allows for a maximum sentence of two years less a day. Bill C-75 as drafted would bring in hybridization for dozens of offences.

The government has consistently said that hybridizing offences does not change sentencing practices because a summary conviction would be used for less serious cases. But the committee heard testimony from advocates who urged the government to back off the changes for certain crimes involving support for terrorism (for example, by providing property) and advocating genocide.

One witness was a woman whose husband was killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorism attack on the World Trade Center.

“One has to wonder if treating a terrorist in the same manner as someone who got a parking ticket is the best way to fix a broken system,” said Maureen Basnicki, co-founder of the Canadian Coalition Against Terror. “I would say absolutely not. It sends the wrong message to victims and to Canadian society as a whole.”

B’nai Brith Canada told the committee that “clear penalties” are necessary for deterrence. “We ask committee members to consider carefully the signals they would send by endorsing hybridization of those offences,” said Brian Herman.

“In recognition of the threat and danger posed by terrorism, these crimes should never be prosecuted as summary offences,” said Shimon Fogel of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.

Colin Fraser, a Liberal MP on the committee, said in an interview that it took a lot of discussion to decide how to vote. He said it was the testimony from B’nai Brith and other groups that ultimately convinced the Liberals.

“I really think that (terrorism and genocide) are distinguishable from the other offences,” he said. “It wasn’t political pressure, it was more just feeling it was the correct thing to do … This is an offence against a community of people, and it’s viewed as a crime against society as a whole. And obviously there’s a historical context to these sorts of offences that needs to be taken into account.”

Bill C-75 is a massive piece of legislation that is the Liberals’ attempt to address chronic delays in the justice system. The bill is not yet finished being amended in committee, and must still go through a final vote in the House before moving to the Senate.

Conservatives have argued that hybridization will effectively mean lower sentences, and have put forward dozens of amendments on C-75 to scrap hybridization. The NDP also opposed hybridization, but for a different reason: they say it puts too much pressure on provincial courts.

'It wasn't political pressure, it was more just feeling it was the correct thing to do'

The Liberals, who hold a majority on the committee, have largely held firm, arguing that prosecutors would only choose a summary conviction for lesser offences that they’re seeking a lower sentence on anyway.

But the Liberals relented on the terrorism offences, and said they intend to do the same in the next meeting when the offence of advocating genocide comes up for amendment.

Although their other amendments were rejected, Conservatives still declared victory over having hybridization removed in some cases.

“It appears members will do the right thing and support this amendment,” said Conservative MP Michael Cooper ahead of one of the votes, adding that it shows “the haphazard way in which Bill C-75 was drafted.”

Liberal MP Randy Boissonnault called Cooper’s comments “hogwash and poppycock.”

“Let’s be serious,” Boissonnault said during Wednesday’s meeting. “We’re talking about terrorism, we’re talking about very serious offences. Our side is not playing politics with the justice bill.”

The government could still restore all hybridization when the bill comes back from committee, but Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould’s office declined comment beyond pointing out that hybridizing offences is an important reform expected to reduce delays and “is not about lowering sentences.”

“We continue to follow the standing committee’s work and look forward to its report,” a spokesperson said.

Source: National Post


Last updated on: 2019-01-25 | Link to this post