Crime and punishment focus of Public Safety Minister’s Morinville talk

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews (right) speaks to Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock MLA Maureen Kubinec and ac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills MLA Shayne Saskiw prior to Friday’s speech at the Morinville Community Cultural Centre. – Stephen Dafoe Photo

By Stephen Dafoe

Morinville – The federal government will stay the course on its efforts in keeping the nation’s streets and communities safe. That was the message from Canada’s Minister of Public Safety, The Honourable Vic Toews, during a stop in Morinville Friday afternoon, an event organized jointly through the Morinville Rotary Club and Westlock-St. Paul MP Brian Storseth.

“For far too long our justice system has been going in the wrong direction. We focused on blaming society rather than holding offenders accountable,” Toews said Friday. “We focused on the rights of offenders instead of focusing on the victims.”

Toews traced the shift in focus to offender’s rights back to 1971, a period when Pierre Treudeau was prime minister. The federal politician said the Trudeau government’s shift turned Canada’s criminal justice system on its head, a situation that has only been righted under Prime Minister Harper’s leadership.

The federal politician said the correction has beEN accomplished by a wide-variety of bills, including measures to ensure multiple murders are punished accordingly, ending the faint hope clause, and creating new penalties for gang-related crimes, including drive by shootings.

“Our government has taken action,” he said, adding Prime Minister Harper was troubled multiple murderers were only sentenced for first degree murder. “We’ve now allowed judges to give consecutive periods of ineligibility for multiple murders.”

But murderers are not the only criminals Toews and his government seek to keep behind bars longer. The elimination of the two-for-one credit prisons often got for time spent in prison prior to their trial, letting fewer out on bail in certain cases, and other federal measures ensure those who commit crime will spend more time paying their debt to society in prison, a place where Toews believes they are better able to receive rehabilitation.

Prison cells and prisoners

Toews denied NDP claims made in the spring of 2010 when the government passed the Truth in Sentencing Act. At that time, the claim was made the government would spend $19 billion in new infrastructure to house the criminals brought into the penal system due to the act as well as another $3 to $4 billion in operating costs.

“Quite frankly, there aren’t that many really bad people out there,” he said. “Most of the people out on the street are exactly like you and me. They are honest, law-abiding citizens who just want to go about their business of raising our families. The new legislation doesn’t set up this great big dragnet to haul in thousands of people that the NDP said we would.”

Even Toews’ own department estimated 4,000 prisoners when the number was actually less than 1,000.

“These are the same old guys who’ve always been going in and out of our prison system,” Towese said. “Now we’re not letting them out on vacation so they can go out, commit a new crime, and then burden the provincial court system, sheriffs, remand centres – all of these things. We’re holding them longer.”

Toews said while in prison, criminals are now expected to seek treatment where needed, get educated and take training, and truly earn their parole.

It is believed the federal measures to end what the Harper Conservatives see as a revolving door system will mean an increase in the number or people behind bars but also a greater level of safety for Canadian communities by keeping criminals off the street longer.

No pardon for pardons

Some of the criminal justice systems changes Toews discussed Friday have been as simple as a modification in wording. The minister said he was proud of legislation aimed at reforming the record suspension system, nomenclature he says is deliberate.

“Calling the suspension of a criminal record a pardon does not do justice for victims,” he said. “The damage done by a criminal act is never undone, even after time passes. A record may be suspended. It is never eliminated.”

Although criminals may not have to disclose a criminal record in some situations once it is suspended, the record is not eliminated and may come back should the criminal be involved in something again.

But not all records will be suspended. Toews said the most significant change to the system is the elimination of the possibility of clearing the record of those convicted of sexual offences against children.

“There are certain crimes that are so heinous that a society has an obligation never to forget those crimes and to ensure that our children are protected,” Toewes said.

Guns and the long gun registry

Toews ridiculed the long gun registry his government abolished, a crime measure introduced by the Liberals in the past. The minister said he opposed the law as far back as 1997 when he was the Attorney General of Manitoba. “I’m not a gun owner. I don’t own a gun. I’m a fisherman, and a poor fisherman,” he said. “I didn’t oppose the long gun registry because I wanted to have a bunch of guns in my house and have people in the streets with guns. I opposed it because it was bad social policy. It was bad criminal law policy.”

Toews said the registry focused on a perception rather than the reality and was abolished because it did not prevent a single crime or save a single life.

He ridiculed the Liberal notion that officers would be able to look on a computer and see if any given residence they were called to had a registered gun or not in the house. “Every officer is trained to assume there is a gun in every house, that there is a danger of some sort in the house when he or she is going through that door,” Toews said. “The registry makes no difference in that respect.”

The minister contrasted the long gun registry, which cost millions, with low- or no-cost measures, including his government’s measures to reverse the onus on bail hearings. Under the new measures criminals caught with guns in their possession are unlikely to be granted bail as they are unable to prove they are not a threat to society by being released.

Toews said the measure has already resulted in Vancouver police observing fewer gang members carrying guns. “They attribute that in some part to the fact that if you are carrying an illegal firearm now just to show how tough you are, the chances are you are not going to get bail because we reverse the onus,” Toews said. “There is an onus on you now to demonstrate that it is safe to release you onto the street as opposed to the Crown having to prove that you’re a danger to the public.”

While implementing measures to deprive criminals of the tools to perpetrate crime and to keep them off the streets longer, the minister said his government has promised Canadians they would give law enforcement the tools and resources necessary to do their jobs. Toews and Storseth followed their Rotary Club visit Friday with a private meeting with local law enforcement officers.

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