My blog post for March 14, 2017
March 14th, 2017 - 7:36pm
It’s hard to believe it, but we’ve now passed the fifth sitting week since Parliament reconvened on January 30th. Much has changed over the course of these weeks, including the additional responsibility given to me when I was named as the Critic for Justice and the Attorney-General on February 13th.
There are a whole host of bills before Parliament that fall under the Justice portfolio, many of which include measures to amend the Criminal Code. My staff and I are being kept quite busy with our new duties. The Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights just concluded its study of Bill C-305, which seeks to expand criminal sanctions for hate-based mischief conducted on a building or structure that is primarily used by an identifiable group.
This last week the Minister of Justice introduced a government bill that aims to remove so-called “zombie provisions” of the Criminal Code. These are provisions that have no force or effect anymore because of previous Supreme Court decisions, but have not yet been removed because of legislative inaction over the years. For example, abortion still exists as a crime written in the statute, despite having been ruled unconstitutional in 1988. The government’s bill, introduced as C-39, will repeal this and other sections such as laws against vagrancy, night-time water skiing, and dueling.
Why is this necessary, you might ask? Well, last year a judge mistakenly used an unconstitutional provision of the Criminal Code, Section 230 to convict Travis Vader of Second Degree Murder. Realizing the error, the judge had to downgrade the conviction to manslaughter. Clearly, these outdated zombie provisions can have real and very serious consequences, and the legal community has been asking Parliament to take action on them for decades.
As the Justice Critic, I applaud the government for finally taking action on this front, but I am puzzled as to why this legislation is only just now appearing, after a year and a half into their mandate. The problematic nature of these statutory provisions has been known for sometime now. Aside from Bill C-14, the Medical Assistance in Dying bill, which was forced by a Supreme Court decision, there has been little in legislative initiatives for the justice system shown by this government. There is a bill to give judges more discretion in applying a victim surcharge, and a bill to amend the coming into force provisions of a bill from the previous Parliament.
Meanwhile, we are still waiting (and with diminishing patience) for the government’s legislative framework on marijuana legalization and regulation. People are still being charged, arrested, and are receiving criminal records for a substance that the government intends to legalize. The Liberal government has consistently stood against the NDP’s suggestion to decriminalize marijuana as an interim measure on the road to legalization.
I am enjoying some time back in the constituency this week, and I look forward to providing you with more Ottawa updates in the near future.