Tories slap two-day limit on debate over sweeping crime legislation
By: GLORIA GALLOWAY, Globe and Mail
The Conservative government has decided to allow just two days additional of debate on its omnibus crime bill before the proposed law goes off to a Commons committee for study.
Government House Leader Peter Van Loan announced the time restriction on Tuesday – a move designed to thwart long hours of criticism from opposition benches over the controversial 102-page piece of legislation that wraps together nine separate bills the Conservatives failed to enact during their minority government years.
Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae immediately denounced the cutting off of debate as a act of a “majority abusing power.”
Among other things, the bill would toughen punishments for a range of criminals, from drug dealers to sexual predators to young offenders. But critics say it will be costly for taxpayers while doing little to make streets safer.
NDP House Leader Thomas Mulcair said the Official Opposition would offer to split the bill, allowing quick passage of the measures that have broad support and permitting time for debate on those items that remain contentious.
“Here we’re dealing with an important bill in the area of crime,” Mr. Mulcair said at a morning new conference. “It’s a bill where we haven’t been given an real estimate of the costs to the provinces.”
The Conservatives, he said, “are trying to shove this down the throats of Parliamentarians. There will be no full debate on this bill of on its costing.”
Mr. Mulcair said Joe Comartin, the NDP justice critic, would be seeking unanimous consent to expedite the portions of the bill that create new offences to protect children and recognize victims rights in the parole process. “We are also open to considering changes to lengthen the time periods for which offenders must demonstrate crime-free behaviour before becoming eligible for parole,” he said.
But Mr. Mulcair said his party cannot support the parts of the law that “copycat” American policy by refusing pardons to people who have committed three crimes and centralizing control over the international transfer of offenders in the Public Safety Minister’s office.
It also takes issue with the “U.S.-style war on drugs” portion of the bill that would, among other things, set a mandatory minimum sentence of six months for someone convicted of possession of six marijuana plants for the purpose of trafficking, he said.
The Conservative majority government is unlikely to agree to the NDP request to divide up the bill, which Prime Minister Stephen Harper has promised to pass within 100 sitting days of the start of this Parliament.
The government argues that the bill has already been debated for two days since the House returned after spring election.
In addition, a government spokesman said, all of the measures combined have been before Parliament on 31 separate days and there have been nearly 200 related speeches in the House of Commons. Counting from the first day that each measure was introduced in the House, he said, they have been before Parliament for almost 20 years, combined.
Once the bill gets past second reading, it would still be studied by a Commons committee. But the Conservatives enjoy a majority on the committee so it is not likely to explored for a long time before being sent back to the House for a final vote and then on to the Senate and royal assent.