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Crime bill sparks protest

National petition collects over 29000 signatures
Crime bill sparks protest

by Kyle Wells reporter@prpeak.com  VIDEO   A group of Powell River residents visited the local constituency office of West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country MP John Weston to deliver a petition and express their concerns over the federal Conservatives’ crime bill.

About 20 people took part in the demonstration on Tuesday, November 29, some carrying signs, others passing out information and talking to people in Powell River Town Centre Mall, where Weston’s office is located.

The opposition comes as part of a national backlash to the bill, touted as the Omnibus Crime Bill or the Safe Streets and Communities Act, which was passed by the House of Commons on Monday, December 5. The petition delivered to Weston, which has been organized by Leadnow.ca, a social justice community, holds the signatures of over 29,000 Canadians who are opposed to the bill.

Drena McCormack co-organized the local initiative and said she believes the law and order approach to crime laid out in the bill is not the answer to dealing with crime. She would like to see more of an emphasis on drug treatment, mental health facilities, reducing poverty, treating victims of crime and a fair court system.

“All of those things would be a lot cheaper than building more prisons and hiring more prison guards,” said McCormack.

Another concern of the protestors is just how much implementing the crime bill will cost. The Conservatives have not announced the exact cost of the changes to taxpayers. A parliamentary secretary said at one point that the cost will be $76 million, but many are questioning the figure. Kevin Page, Parliamentary budget officer, estimated that the bill will add $2 billion to national spending and $3 billion to provincial budgets.

There are a variety of criticisms of the bill concerning its approach to youth crime, drug offences and mandatory minimum sentences. Others say the bill is unnecessary considering a Statistics Canada survey released at the end of November found that 93 per cent of Canadians feel safe from crime and that crime rates overall have been declining for a decade.

Demonstrator Ari Neimund said one of his major objections to the bill is the way it combines nine previous bills that did not get passed before the last election. This strategy forces members of parliament to vote either yes or no on the whole package instead of being able to pick out what works and what does not. Neimund also disagrees with the section of the bill related to drug crimes and worries that many harmless people will end up in jail on marijuana charges.

“I don’t see how filling up prisons is going to make our streets any safer really,” said Neimund. “Putting people in jail does very little to restore justice or to rehabilitate criminals and people who have broken the law.”

Weston, who was in Ottawa, spoke to McCormack and co-organizer Ellen Gould on the phone at his office in Powell River while the other demonstrators stood by. After the conversation McCormack and Gould reported to the demonstrators. They described Weston’s main argument as being that the Conservatives were elected with the promise of this bill, indicating to him that the majority of Canadians support it.

Weston told the Peak that he appreciated the respectful way demonstrators presented their concerns to him. He said he shares their concerns over balancing prison and rehabilitation services and he believes the bill reflects that. He said that as a parent he has considered the bill’s appropriateness in terms of both what he would want if one of his children ended up a victim of crime but also of what he would want if his child made a mistake and committed a crime.

“I don’t share the view that this is an unfair approach, in fact Canadians want the bill passed, they want to see that what we were campaigning about is actually being implemented,” said Weston. “There are always going to be people who disagree with the government, that’s the nature of democracy. So I feel as an MP part of my role is to make sure I’m listening to them but also to do what I’m elected to do. And in this case I will be voting for the bill because it’s what we campaigned on.”

The bill must now be passed by the Senate. The Conservatives have promised it will become a law by March 16, 2012.