Thank you very much for the invitation. It's a pleasure to be back before the committee.
My name is Michael Spratt. I'm a lawyer. I'm certified as a criminal law specialist by the Law Society of Ontario, and I'm a partner at the criminal law firm of AGP LLP here in Ottawa. I've served on the board of the Criminal Lawyers' Association. I've acted as vice-president of the Defence Counsel Association of Ottawa, and I've been practising in the trenches of our courts for about 15 years now.
I'd like to touch briefly on the three main features of the bill. I'll start with minimum sentences. In criminal justice policy, the embrace of mandatory minimum penalties is a sentencing tool that is the hobgoblin of small minds. The evidence is clear. MMPs are an ineffective and dangerous tool. They don't deter crime. They don't increase public safety. They disproportionately impact indigenous and other racialized Canadians, and they're incredibly expensive.
In 2005, the Department of Justice found evidence that minimum sentences are not effective at deterring crime. In 2007, the parliamentary information and research service cited numerous studies that came to the same conclusion. In 2017, a federal government report concluded:
Research in Canada and the United States has found no evidence that MMPs have deterred crime; rather, some studies suggest that MMPs can result in overly harsh penalties and disparities, that they increase costs to the criminal justice system as a result of higher levels of incarceration, and that lengthier sentencing may actually increase recidivism.
Expensive, racist, ineffective, unfair and cruel: that's why time and time again, minimum sentences have been declared unconstitutional by our courts.
It is a very positive step that Bill C-5 removes this corrosive sentencing policy from the Criminal Code, but of course, Bill C-5 does not remove all minimum sentences. We need to eliminate every single minimum sentence in the Criminal Code. I'll answer the question in advance: yes, including for murder, which is a particular concern for women who have killed their abusers.
Here's your history lesson. The only reason the minimum sentence for murder was found to be constitutional by the Supreme Court in the case of Luxton was that there was a possibility of review through the faint hope clause, which of course has now been repealed.
At the very least, this bill should be amended to allow an escape valve for the rest of the MMPs that aren't explicitly eliminated, and there should be a requirement that all reasonable sentencing alternatives be explored and considered before mandatory minimum penalties are imposed.
I'll move on to conditional sentences. This is one of the best parts of the bill. The amendment to the conditional sentence regime here is desperately needed. The amendment is going to bring consistency in the application of the criminal law across Canada. Different provinces now have different conditional sentence rules because of different court findings. On the ground, we see that conditional sentences bring efficiency and fairness to the justice system.
Some people—and I'll be blunt because I normally am, members of the Conservative Party—have said that conditional sentences are too lax. Now, just because a conditional sentence is available doesn't mean it is going to be imposed. Conditional sentences can be imposed only for sentences that fall under two years and only when there's no danger to the safety of the community. Conditional sentences provide significant restrictions, denunciation and deterrence.
If you thought that mask mandates were an oppressive restriction that deserved and called out for massive protests, wait until you hear about conditional sentences, because they can be more restrictive and more punitive, but they can also be rehabilitative. Unlike traditional jail, conditional sentences come with strings attached, such as house arrest. Offenders can be required to take counselling, seek employment, perform community service and make reparations to the victims of their offences. This is one of the best parts of the bill.
Very briefly, in the time that I have left, I'm going to deal with the drug amendments. Canada is in the grip of a deadly overdose epidemic. In 2020, more people died in British Columbia of drug overdoses than car crashes, homicides and suicides all combined. Since 2016, more than 20,000 Canadians have died of opioid overdoses. Incrementalism is not enough here. People do not lead incremental lives, and they're not dying incremental deaths. The harms of continued criminalization are real.
This legislation as it pertains to this drug issue is window dressing. It's the same type of window dressing we saw in 2018, with legislation that sought to divert administration of justice defences through police diversion. That power has been used four times by the police in Ottawa.
The real solution here is not to give more power to the police but to take it back. We need decriminalization and safe supply legislation.