More comment on Bill C-75 coming soon from NDP

West Shore Voice

Mandatory minimum sentences that were introduced under the Harper Conservative government (thought to restrict the discretionary powers of judges) have not been changed in the proposed judicial system changes in Bill C-75 that were announced March 29 by federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould. That particular change to the judicial system was promised by the Liberals during the 2015 election campaign.

Other than one quick media appearance by NDP MP Alistair MacGregor (Cowichan-Malahat-Langford) on CBC’s Power & Politics last week, the NDP which is normally vocally active for progressive change has been pretty quiet on C-75 in the past week. However, a formal NDP position on C-75 is expected to come April 12, it was  evealed April 6 by Murray Rankin’s office. Rankin is the MP for Victoria and is now the NDP’s Justice Critic, though last year it was MacGregor in that role.

So with Rankin presently away in Pakistan, MacGregor stepped in: “We don't really like it when you take away the discretion of the presiding judge,” says MacGregor, saying the judge is the one who is firmly in command of the facts. He says that judges need more tools to deal with a sentence, because with a mandatory minimum sentence their hands are tied. “A defendant will defend themselves all the way through and that may clog up the court system by having really long trials,” MacGregor said. Criticizing the Liberals for not taking action on this, he said “this is one area where we could really make some progress”.

Telling West Shore Voice News this week, MacGregor said “we ultimately
want to make our juries reflective of the society that we live in”. And so he was glad that in C-75, preemptory powers (removal without explanation) will be taken from lawyers when choosing jury participants. Overall: “The NDP is not going to go after the government on any particular section of C-75, but we do want to take the time to study it thoroughly and come to a conclusion. There’s a lot we’re very happy with (in C-75), but why so long to get to this stage?”

And why not live up to the promise for mandatory minimums? “That’s been
our main criticism... removing discretionary power of the judge,” MacGregor said. “If anyone should have discretion it should be the judge. The judge knows all the facts of the case, and the history of victim and accused before him or her. A judge should be the one who is equipped with the tools for a punishment that fits the crime. We’re not advocating that punishments should be lessened, but that the judge has the tools already in the Criminal Code that can increase or decrease a case as the case merits,” he said.
As of March 1, 2018 there were 56 judicial vacancies across Canada, including seven in BC.

West Shore Voice, Aprill 6, 2018