Proposed federal legislation could put someone in jail for 10 years for protesting outside a hospital, while other legislation promised by the Liberal government would reduce mandatory minimum sentences for many drug and weapon offences, including certain violent gun crimes.
Bill C-3, whose second reading is in progress in the House, adds a Criminal Code offence for anyone who acts “with the intent to provoke a state of fear” in order to prevent someone from obtaining health services or to impede health professionals or their assistants from doing their jobs.
Anyone who “intentionally obstructs or interferes with another person’s lawful access to a place at which health services are provided by a health professional” commits an offence. The maximum sentence is 10 years’ imprisonment.
At the same time, the Liberals have re-introduced the former Bill C-22 under the premise of reducing “overrepresentation” of black, indigenous, and marginalized people in jails.
Tabled on Dec. 7, the newly named Bill C-5 would eliminate mandatory prison time for gun-related offences such as robbery with a firearm, extortion with a firearm, weapons trafficking, discharging a firearm with intent, and using a firearm in the commission of a crime. Mandatory prison sentences would also vanish for drug dealers for crimes such as drug trafficking and the production of illicit drugs like heroin, cocaine, fentanyl, and crystal meth.
Under Bill C-5, more convicts could avoid jail and get conditional sentences instead, such as house arrest, where the term is less than two years’ imprisonment. This would apply to offences such as sexual assault, kidnapping, trafficking in persons, abduction of a person under 14, motor vehicle theft, theft over $5,000, breaking and entering, and assault causing bodily harm or with a weapon.
Yet, under Bill C-3, an aggravating circumstance in sentencing that could lead to heavy sentences would include “evidence that the commission of the offence had the effect of impeding another person from obtaining health services, including personal care services.”
In the rationale for the legislation, a government news release accompanying the bill’s Nov. 26 first reading mentions protecting “those who provide abortion services” and says that intimidating someone for providing or seeking health care is unacceptable “particularly during a global pandemic.”
‘Targeting Ideological Opponents’
Marty Moore, a lawyer at the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, says the government’s heavy-handedness on minor crimes and softness on serious crimes is itself a problem.
“The rule of law would require that the punishments for breaking the law are the same across the board and that they are in accordance with the harm caused. But what we often see is that politicians are attempting to ignore elements of harm and rather target ideological opponents with measures under the Criminal Code,” Moore said in an interview.
“Right now, we are seeing a government that appears to be more interested in targeting its ideological opponents than in targeting the harms caused and those who are causing harms through serious crimes. And I think that is always a concern in a society and it won’t play out well.”
Bill C-3 clarifies that no one is guilty of obstruction “by reason only that they attend at or near, or approach, a place referred to in that subsection for the purpose only of obtaining or communicating information.”
Sayeh Hassan, another Justice Centre lawyer, said Bill C-3 targets people who “might be doing a little bit more than peaceful assembly, or people gathering.” She notes, however, that police already have the power to charge such people under Section 430 of the Criminal Code, “which makes it an offence to obstruct or to interfere with lawful use or enjoyment of a property. That would cover a hospital.”
This renders the proposed measures “completely unnecessary,” so the aim of those measures may be to create fear in protesters, Hassan said.
“In 14 years of practising criminal law, I have never seen a judge give anyone the maximum sentence. So there might be a bit of an effort to try to intimidate people by putting in this very scary 10-year maximum sentence,” she said.
“They’re saying this is to protect the health-care workers and protect the patients that they have. On the other side, they’re firing health-care workers because of the vaccine issues, and they’re bringing all kinds of disciplinary actions against health-care workers. So there’s a lot of contradiction.”