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Cotler criticizes omnibus crime bill
Article mis en ligne le jeudi 15 décembre 2011

Photo: Marie Cicchini

Irwin Cotler, the MP for Mount Royal, held a press conference on Dec. 6 to unveil his parliamentary agenda.

Of paramount concern was the Conservative government’s omnibus crime bill, the so-called “Safe Streets and Communities Act” – actually nine different bills bundled into one – which he criticized as being heavy-handed and not passing constitutional muster.

In a recent opinion piece in The Huffington Post titled “A Sad Day for Criminal Justice,” he outlined multiple flaws in the bill itself and lamented what he viewed as a skewed process geared to enacting the government’s “mandate” – code for getting the sweeping legislation passed without amendments.

He said that the opposition hadn’t had any real opportunity to evaluate the legislation on its merits because the Conservatives had invoked closure, both in the House of Commons and in committee hearings.

“Everyone wants safer streets and communities,” he said. However, what is at stake in the current debate is the means for achieving this goal. The Harper government has long been a proponent of tough crime legislation, but its critics say that it will not deter crime and is excessively punitive, without addressing the need for prevention or giving rehabilitation a real shot.

Cotler, a former justice minister with Paul Martin’s Liberal government, expressed concern about the effects of prison overcrowding as a result of the mandatory minimum sentences that will be imposed once the bill passes through the Senate and becomes law – a given because the Conservatives also control the upper chamber.

He said that even U.S. conservatives recognize that the tough-on-crime approach doesn’t work and cited the report of the U.S. Sentencing Committee released in October as evidence that prison overcrowding has actually increased crime rates both within the prison system and in society.

Later that day, marking his 12th anniversary as MP, he hosted a town hall cum social event for his constituents at a trendy restaurant known as Le Graham. Those in attendance drafted a petition and gathered some 50 signatures on the spot, calling on the government to moderate the crime bill and ensure that it comply with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Cotler also accused the Conservatives of being behind a telephone campaign suggesting that he is about to resign. In a recent op-ed piece in The Gazette he said that many of his constituents had been contacted by a call service identified by caller ID as Campaign Research, asking whether they would support the Conservatives and/or Stephen Harper in the upcoming “by-election.”

When some of them asked if, in fact, he was about to resign, they were told either that he had resigned or would do so imminently.

He also said that there were anecdotal reports that former Conservative challenger Saulie Zajdel had been acting like a “shadow MP” in the riding. When reached by this newspaper and asked whether or not these rumours were true, or if he or his former campaign workers were behind the telephone campaign, Zajdel replied: “No comment.”

When pressed further for clarification about his current line of work and any possible actions on his part in this matter, he said only that he could not answer any questions, but didn’t say why.

[ Deborah Rankin ]

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