Article by: National post
OTTAWA – OTTAWA – The unelected Senate has retreated from a fight with elected MPs over a bill designed to eliminate a judicial practice, when sentencing offenders, to credit them on a two-for-one basis for each day already spent in detention.
The proposed legislation became enshrined into law on Thursday, after the upper chamber voted against a Senate committee’s amendment two weeks ago to dramatically weaken the bill because it removes discretion for judges to sentence as they see fit.
The legal and constitutional affairs committee enraged both the governing Conservatives and the opposition parties in the House of Commons, including fellow Liberals, who had all joined forces to pass the bill.
Justice Minister Rob Nicholson blasted the Senate at the time for “gutting” his proposed law and denounced the move as evidence the Liberals in general are soft on crime.
The Harper government introduced its bill earlier this year, saying the two-for-one credit is being abused by accused offenders who drag out their trials so they can cut their time in prison.
The idea behind the credit is to compensate for the harsh conditions in detention facilities.
The committee voted to change the proposed legislation so that offenders would receive a credit of 1.5 days for each day served in pre-sentence custody — but that judges would retain their discretion.
The bill’s final passage in its original form, by a 42-29 margin, ends a standoff between Liberals in the Commons and the Senate committee, who said that it was their job to amend and that they could do so because they did not have to pander to the political pressures of MPs.
Liberal Sen. Serge Joyal, who opposes the new law, remained unapologetic about the committee’s amendments Thursday, saying the new law was faulty on numerous fronts.
“You can discuss, debate, study and recommend on an issue but sometimes the politics take over,” he said.
Among other things, the bill will have a disproportionate effect on the mentally ill, aboriginals and other minorities, who do not have the means to secure bail, Sen. Joyal said. It will also spark Charter of Rights challenges because suspects who are released pending trial and sentence will have an easier time in the justice system than those who had to serve hard time in remand, he said.
Sen. Joyal said it was the first time in several years that the Senate has rejected amendments from a committee, which holds public hearings on proposed legislation and hears from a slate of experts.
The Senate, despite complaints from Mr. Nicholson that the unelected chamber is blocking his law-and-order initiatives, also passed a bill to crack down on identity theft and it became law on Thursday.
Mr. Nicholson, far from acknowledging the passage of his bills, took aim at Liberals in the Senate for their rigorous scrutiny of another justice initiative to impose mandatory minimum sentences for a variety of drug crimes