Cablegate: Canada Passes Key New Crime Bill


DE RUEHOT #0319/01 0632216
O 032216Z MAR 08





E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: A. Ottawa 257

- B. 07 OTTAWA 1924

1. (SBU) Summary: The Conservatives' comprehensive crime
legislation became law on February 28 after the Liberal-dominated
Senate met a government-set March 1 deadline and passed the omnibus
bill without amendment from the House of Commons' version. The new
Act fulfills a 2006 election promise from the Conservatives and was
also a major plank in the 2007 "Speech from the Throne" policy
statement by the government (ref b). Important new provisions
include mandatory minimum sentences for gun crimes, easier
designations of "dangerous offenders," and better protection for
young teens from sexual exploitation. It will help not only to
tackle violent crime more effectively, but also to position the
Conservatives as the primary party of "law and order" in the next
federal election. End summary.


2. (U) The new "Tackling Violent Crime Act" includes key elements
of five separate criminal law bills from 2006 as part of the
government's tough "safe streets, safe communities" law and order
agenda against gangs, guns, and violent crime. Opposition parties
initially opposed at least two of the five -- mandatory minimum
sentences for gun crimes and increasing restrictions on dangerous
offenders -- and all five bills died when the government prorogued
Parliament in 2007.

3. (U) With the opening of a new session of Parliament on October
16, 2007, the Conservatives included this single, comprehensive
justice bill in the "Speech from the Throne" policy statement and
then introduced it formally on October 18. To ratchet up pressure,
the government voluntarily designated the bill as a matter of
"confidence" that would trigger an election if the opposition
parties defeated it. The Commons passed it without amendment on
November 28. In early February, Prime Minister Harper pushed
through the Commons an unusual second confidence motion setting a
deadline for the Senate to pass the bill by March 1 or trigger an
election. Despite constitutional doubts that the Commons has any
power to compel the timing of votes in the appointed upper house,
the Senate expedited its hearings, even during recess (ref a) and
passed it without amendment on February 27. It received Royal
Assent from the Governor General on February 28 and became law.


4. (U) The legislation increases existing mandatory minimum prison
terms for certain firearms offenses, particularly where the offense
has been committed with a restricted or prohibited firearm, in
connection with a criminal organization, or by an individual with a
previous conviction for a firearm-related offense. The new
mandatory minimum prison sentences increase to five years for a
first offense, and seven years on a second or subsequent offense,
for eight specific offenses involving firearms (attempted murder,
discharging a firearm with intent, sexual assault with a weapon,
aggravated sexual assault, kidnapping, hostage taking, robbery, and
extortion), when the offense is gang-related, or for use of a
restricted or prohibited firearm.

5. (U) The Act also mandates sentences of three years on a first
offense, and five years on a second or subsequent offense, for other
serious firearm-related offenses (firearm trafficking, possession
for the purpose of firearm trafficking, firearm smuggling, and
illegal possession of a restricted or prohibited firearm with
ammunition), as well as establishing new indictable offenses for
breaking and entering to steal a firearm or robbery to steal a


6. (U) The Act establishes a "reverse onus" requiring defendants to
demonstrate why they should not be in jail while awaiting trial when
facing charges of certain serious offenses involving firearms,
-- attempted murder;
-- discharging a firearm with criminal intent;
-- sexual assault with a weapon;
-- aggravated sexual assault
-- kidnapping
-- hostage-taking
-- robbery,
-- extortion
-- any indictable offense involving use of a firearm or other
regulated weapon;
-- firearms trafficking and smuggling; or,
-- where the accused faces a mandatory minimum prison sentence of
three years or more for a firearms offense.


7. (U) The Act makes it easier for the courts, at the Crown's
request, to designate individuals convicted of repeated violent
(especially sexual), offenses as "Dangerous Offenders" -- those
guilty of serious personal injury offences who constitute a threat
to the life, safety, physical, or mental well-being of other persons
-- as part of their sentencing. Once in prison, "Dangerous
Offenders" are still eligible to apply for day parole after four
years and full parole after seven years, but even those paroled or
who finish their sentences are subject to monitoring for the rest of
their lives. If they continue to represent an "unacceptable risk to
society," they may remain in prison for life. Successive
governments have already designated 403 individuals in Canada as
"Dangerous Offenders" since 1978.

8. (U) The Act adds a new "reverse onus" method to existing
provisions designating individuals as "Dangerous Offenders." The
Act creates a "presumption of dangerousness" so that individuals who
have been convicted at least three times of specific violent or
sexual crimes must convince the court why they should not be
designated a "Dangerous Offender." Previously, the Crown had to
decide whether it would seek "Dangerous Offender" status on a
case-by-case basis and to apply to the court for such status. It
was not obliged to state in open court its intention to pursue such
status. In contrast, the new provisions require the Crown to affirm
in open court its intention to apply to the court or not for
"Dangerous Offender" status after three convictions on serious
violent offenses, thereby increasing the likelihood that it will
pursue "Dangerous Offender" applications in such cases. The Act
also allows the Crown to designate as "Dangerous Offenders" repeat
violent offenders who breach lesser crimes, to double the duration
of peace bonds, and to clarify the range of conditions on those
released from jail.


9. (U) The Act raises the age at which youths can consent to
non-exploitative sexual activity from fourteen to sixteen years, but
includes a close-in-age exception for fourteen and fifteen year-old
youths with partners less than 5 years older. The age of consent for
sexual exploitative situations (i.e., prostitution) remains 18 years


10. (U) The Act provides police with better tools to detect and
investigate drug- and alcohol-impaired driving, including making it
an offense to refuse roadside sobriety and drug tests. It increases
penalties for impaired driving from C$600 to C$1,000 for a first
offense, with the minimum term of imprisonment from 14 to 30 days
for a second offense and the minimum sentence from 90 to 120 days
for each subsequent offense. It also adds new offenses and maximum
penalties for impaired driving causing bodily harm (ten years
imprisonment) or death (life imprisonment).


11. (SBU) Prime Minister Stephen Harper came into office in part on
the Conservatives' promise of getting tough on crime, and he has
widespread public - and now, bipartisan political -- support for
strengthening Canada's judicial system and increasing resources for
his law and order agenda. The government has since October 2007
succeeded in passing two major pieces of crime and security
legislation -- amendments to Canada's security certificate system
(septel) and the Tackling Violent Crime Act -- and thereby
sidestepped a possible federal election over confidence votes on
these bills. Other justice draft legislation remains under
consideration in Parliament, including a bill establishing mandatory
minimum sentences for drug crimes (targeted at producers, dealers,
Qminimum sentences for drug crimes (targeted at producers, dealers,
gangs, and organized crime) and amendments to the 2001
Anti-Terrorism Act, currently in the Senate. These new bills will
help not only to tackle violent crime and possible terrorists even
more effectively, but will also position the Conservatives as the
primary party of "law and order" in the next federal election -
whenever it takes place.

© Scoop Media

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