ARPA Submits Brief to the Justice Committee to Encourage Restorative Justice
The federal government introduced Bill C-5, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act on December 7, 2021. A previous iteration of this legislation, Bill C-22, had been introduced in February 2021 but did not complete second reading before the federal election was called. At the end of March, Bill C-5 completed second reading and was referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights for review. ARPA Canada was able to participate in that review by submitting a written brief to encourage the Committee to consider amendments to this bill in light of principles of restorative justice. We encourage you to read our submission here.
Bill C-5 would repeal mandatory minimum penalties for 14 different offences in the Criminal Code, as well as repeal mandatory minimum sentences in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. It would provide the opportunity for alternative sentences, such as house arrest, to be used in some cases instead of jail time.
Mandatory minimum sentences would be repealed for various firearms offences (excluding certain violent crimes such as attempted murder, kidnapping, and sexual assault). Amendments to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act would remove mandatory minimum penalties for trafficking prohibited drugs, importing and exporting drugs, or drug production.
The government states that Bill C-5 seeks to protect health and human rights and reduce harm in society while addressing the root problems of crime through education and rehabilitation. The legislation seeks to shift the focus on illegal substance abuse to a health and social issue, rather than primarily a criminal issue, due to concerns that greater criminal sanctions can increase the stigma associated with drug use. Finally, the government says that Bill C-5 will address systemic racism by reducing the percentage of minority populations that are imprisoned through mandatory minimum penalties.
ARPA Canada Submission
ARPA Canada’s submission focuses on general principles of restorative justice and how those principles apply to the amendments within Bill C-5. This includes the positive ways Bill C-5 applies restorative justice principles, as well as limits to restorative justice and concerns about where Bill C-5 goes too far.
Restorative justice principles hold that perpetrators must be held responsible for their actions in a way that creates opportunities for them to restore what was broken by their crime. This can include restoration between the offender and the victim, facilitating conversations so that the offender can understand the impact of their crime and seeking to make amends for what has been done. Often, prison does not improve an offender’s behaviour, but simply solidifies criminal relationships and tendencies. Applying restorative justice in appropriate circumstances (specifically for non-violent crimes) can help reduce repeat offences and rebuild a community suffering from the impacts of crime.
The removal of mandatory minimum sentences for certain crimes recognizes that there are circumstances where offenders can be dealt with more appropriately than through imprisonment. Convictions for petty crimes often fill prisons with people who are not dangerous and do not need to be separated from their community through incarceration. Sentences such as house arrest can help a person stay with their family and avoid negative influences in prison, while still taking responsibility for their actions and receiving consequences for those actions. Increased options for sentencing can also provide an opportunity for faith-based organizations to work with offenders alongside the justice system and build relationships in a way that the justice system cannot.
However, the criminal justice system does need to ensure that offenders are punished appropriately in a way that is proportional to the crime that has been committed. Someone who commits a crime makes a moral choice about his actions, even if his environment or circumstances influence those actions. Appropriate punishment is an important part of restorative justice, but there are limitations to how far restorative justice principles can be applied, and incarceration is necessary in some cases.
The list of crimes that Bill C-5 addresses is broad and mandatory minimum penalties should remain for some of these crimes, due to the direct harm they inflict on other people. For example, the bill would remove mandatory minimum penalties for discharging a firearm with intent to wound another person, as well as for armed robbery. Likewise, the bill would permit alternative sentences to imprisonment for certain offences including sexual assault, kidnapping, or human trafficking. Crime ought to be punished appropriately, and this includes recognizing the need for incarceration in some instances. The criminal justice system should operate in a way that seeks to protect communities and individuals affected by crime. A final issue in Bill C-5 is the attempt to frame the use and distribution of illegal drugs as only a health and social issue. The justice system should continue to recognize that drug abuse is a harmful moral choice made by individuals and that there are consequences beyond health and social concerns.
Overall, we provide six recommendations to amend the existing text of Bill C-5, as well as two additional recommendations that should be added to further improve the legislation. It is good to see attempts to improve the criminal justice system in a way that values restoration and relationships, while also recognizing that some of the content of Bill C-5 is concerning and further improvements can be made.
For further details and to read our recommendations, you can find the full submission here.