When newly minted Justice Minister and Attorney General Peter MacKay addresses the Canadian Bar Association for the first time on Monday, don’t expect him to follow in the footsteps of his U.S. counterpart and unveil a new direction for the justice system.

While U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder this week announced to the American bar a plan to shift away from mandatory minimum sentences and heavy-handed incarceration measures —  a misguided direction the Canadian government is headed, according to its critics — MacKay insists Canada is on the right track when it comes to law and order.

In fact, he argues Holder’s plan shows the United States is actually taking a page out of the Canadian playbook.

“I’m glad to see that he, to some degree, is moving in the direction that we’ve already moved,” MacKay told Postmedia News in his first one-on-one interview since he was shuffled out of the Defence Department and into the Justice portfolio last month.

“They’re talking about moving away from very harsh sentences that were handed down for, in some cases, simple possession. That we’ve already done, but there will remain very severe penalties in the U.S., in fact more severe than in Canada, for trafficking in narcotics and that is an area in which our government feels very strongly.”

Despite cuts to prisoner work programs and new rules that make it harder for ex-convicts to obtain pardons, MacKay maintains Canada’s approach is “balanced” and “doesn’t lose sight of the need to rehabilitate.”

He chalks up most of the criticism to “partisan rhetoric,” and suggests those who say mandatory minimum sentences, the removal of house arrest for certain offenses and the increased use of double-bunking in prisons all point to a move towards an American style of justice “just have it wrong.”

That said, MacKay maintains he’s more than just a sympathetic face to spearhead the government’s victims crusade — the next big item on the government’s law and order agenda.

He’s got big plans for the portfolio that include re-branding impaired driving, modernizing the extradition process and updating the Supreme Court Act.

“We’re looking at legislation that will send a very strong message about how serious (impaired driving) is,” he said, noting that includes drug impairment.

He said changing the Criminal Code offence for impaired driving causing death to “vehicular manslaughter", for example, would better reflect society’s “abhorrence” of impaired driving.

Making breathalyzer ignition devices mandatory on new vehicles, he added, is also something that could assist police who say impaired charges take up a lot of time and expense.

Citing the case of Nova Scotia businessman Ernest Fenwick MacIntosh, MacKay said there’s also a “need to reform and modernize how we extradite people.” MacIntosh had 17 convictions for indecent assault and gross indecency involving children overturned by the province’s appeal’s court due to delays in getting him to trial, in large part because it took more than a decade to extradite him from India.

The Supreme Court Act, which established the high court in 1875, he said, also needs a face lift.

“There are provisions right now that could be interpreted as excluding federal judges from Supreme Court appointments,” he said, noting that’s not the intention. “This act literally goes back to Confederation. Suffice to say, there’s a need to update some of the provisions.”

That’s not to say that leading the next wave of the government’s plan to put victims at the centre of the justice system isn’t a priority.

Consulting stakeholders on the new victims bill of rights to be introduced in the fall, he said, has occupied much of his time as minister so far.




Last updated on: 2013-08-18 | Link to this post