Editorial: Let the debate begin

With a federal election on the horizon, it’s worth taking a look at what the parties are saying about justice policy.

Given their record in power over the last nine years, it’s clear the Conservatives are likely to continue on the track they’ve set. While the government’s approach has morphed from introducing major crime legislation to more targeted private member’s bills aimed at very specific issues — such as the recent bill C-639 that sets mandatory minimums for offences involving critical infrastructure — it’s likely to maintain its vow to get tough on crime as a signature policy.

As for the Liberals and the NDP, their positions so far suggest a gradual softening of that approach. That probably doesn’t mean a significant change as reversing the government’s crime crackdown wouldn’t help them win a lot of votes, but the opposition parties have said things many in the legal community would like. “There is a critical role for judges in determining sentences, and mandatory minimum sentences should be restricted to serious and violent offences only,” the Liberals say in describing their position on justice and public safety. The NDP’s policy book also refers to adapting sentencing rules to “allow, under judicial discretion, for more severe sentences for violent crime.”

Similarly, the two opposition parties would veer from the government’s approach to drug policy. The Liberals, who have called for legalization of marijuana possession, say prohibition doesn’t work. The NDP is calling for decriminalization of marijuana possession as well as the removal of the production and distribution of the drug from the control of organized crime.

It’s hardly inspiring stuff and it certainly would be good to get more details on exactly what the parties would do to enhance judicial discretion. Are there particular laws where they would restore more judicial leeway?

At the very least, the parties should outline in detail at least a few key areas where they’d make changes. Justice policy is hardly a key driver of elections — with the partial exception of the Conservatives’ use of it to boost support from its core supporters — but it’s an important aspect of what governments do. Let’s hope it forms a significant part of the debate this year.
Glenn Kauth

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