While crime and justice issues are always prominent in the news, they are rarely front and centre during election campaigns. Justice is a nuanced issue that provides a myriad of problems with few simple solutions.
Due to the complexity of justice issues and the potential for them to blow up, politicians are loath to wade into the subject during election campaigns. Criminal justice is a federal issue, however, and every party has policies on it even if they don’t make leading election planks on it.
While the Trudeau Liberals have not released their full platform in this election yet, we can assume they still support the justice policies that they were pursuing before the election was called. Bill C-22, introduced in February, would have reversed provisions for mandatory minimum sentencing for over 20 crimes. The mandatory minimums were imposed by the Harper government and the Liberals had long said that they would reverse those laws. Bill C-22 is now dead, but we can presume the Liberals will resurrect some form of it if they are re-elected.
Following the murder of 22 people by Gabriel Wortman in Nova Scotia in April 2020, the Liberals vowed to crack down on firearm ownership in Canada. Over 1,500 types of firearms were made illegal, and the Liberals have initiated a controversial buyback program. Bill C-21 increased penalties for crimes such as gun smuggling and modifying guns to increase their round capacity. The government ran ads applauding their own gun control laws just before the election was called, and it is safe to assume that the Liberals plan to continue to limit firearm rights in Canada.
The O’Toole Conservatives have the most detailed justice plan of all the parties. They’re vowing to repeal the Liberal gun bans and end the buyback program. Their platform has a distinct tough-on-crime feel to it, with calls to broaden the definition of a “dangerous offender” and to increase the scope of the sex offender registry. They are are supportive of mandatory minimum sentencing for violent crimes and their platform addresses everything from organized crime to missing persons legislation. Justice is a policy area where the Conservatives provide a solid contrast to Liberal policies.
The NDP under Jagmeet Singh has a short platform statement on “enhancing our justice system.” Like the Liberals, the NDP wants to end mandatory minimum sentencing and to increase judicial discretion. They want to have the records expunged for people who had been convicted of minor cannabis possession now that cannabis possession has been legalized. The statement repeatedly speaks to “inequality” within the system but doesn’t expand on just what that means. The NDP does call for tougher enforcement of the laws with regards to corporations and presumably white-collar crime.
Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party doesn’t have a crime or justice section within its platform. They do have a section with detailed policy regarding firearms, however. They want to repeal the entire Firearms Act and replace it with what they say will be a streamlined system. They would keep a licensing system but would make it a lifetime certification following mandatory training and screening. They would repeal the recent ban on some types of firearms and would regulate firearms based on functionality rather than appearance. They would mandate that future changes to firearm policies must come through Parliament rather than through orders-in-council or the RCMP.
The Green Party has not released a platform yet. Leader Annamie Paul has stated that many of their policies will be “virtually identical” to what they have pitched before. Past policy statements had the Green Party speaking in opposition to anti-terrorism legislation and mandatory minimum sentencing laws. They called for a new “independent law reform commission” to be formed with a mandate to report on all “tough on crime” amendments made by the Harper Conservatives. They would like to see increased parliamentary oversight for Canadian security services such as CSIS.
The only way that justice issues tend to rise to the top during election campaigns is if a terrible crime occurs during the campaign. Policy statements then tend to be reactive rather than proactive. Parties such as the Conservatives that have comprehensive justice policies built into their platforms will be able to react with solid proposals. Parties that are light on justice details in their platforms can potentially pivot and create policy proposals on the fly, though they run the risk of appearing to be chasing the issue.
Hopefully, we will see some more detailed platforms released on the important issues of crime and justice as the campaign progresses.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.