Roundup: Justice bill under fire

The big news over the long weekend was the Liberals’ major criminal justice reform bill, which was tabled at the end of last week. It’s a big bill because it’s a big topic, but also because the government decided to fold in two previous bills that have been languishing on the Order Paper so that they can all get passed at once. One of those bills has clauses that have been overtaken by a previous bill that again, languishes on the Order Paper. And yet, despite this major reform push, one of the biggest problems facing the justice system, mandatory minimum sentences, which are clogging the courts, remain intact because this bill doesn’t address them, and the minister is shrugging in terms of saying the debate is still ongoing with provinces and courts over those. Among changes in this bill are severely limiting preliminary inquiries, which could mean that a number of cases go to trial where they wouldn’t have otherwise given that the point of a preliminary inquiry was to determine whether there was enough evidence to secure a conviction. Another change is to eliminate peremptory challenges in jury selection, something which has gained a lot of attention in the past couple of months after the Gerald Stanley trial in Saskatchewan had an all-white jury.

None of this is without controversy, and defence lawyers are raising the alarm. Lawyers like Michael Spratt say the changes will not speed up trials, and will actually eliminate some procedural fairness from the system. The elimination of peremptory challenges is far more contentious, with some defence lawyers saying it won’t fix anything while another says it could eliminate the current abuses. One law professor calls it a good first step, but lists other recommendations to increase access to justice in remote communities and improve jury selection.

On a related note, it looks like Saskatchewan hasn’t been selecting juries in a way that complies with their own provincial laws. While this may not be enough to cause an appeal in the Stanley trial, which has put much of the focus on the issue of peremptory challenges, it does raise questions about jury selection laws in this country that are part of these reforms.

Good reads:

  • Justin Trudeau will give a commencement address at New York University in May, and will be given an honorary degree at the same time.
  • Amarjeet Sohi admits that the government has been bad at getting infrastructure information to the PBO, and pledges to do better.
  • The government remains skittish about extending privacy laws to political parties, fearing it will limit interactions with constituents.
  • And yes, all three major political parties purchase data on Canadians as part of their attempt to target voters.
  • In his examination of the Great Lakes Pilotage Authority, the Auditor General noted that delayed board appointments contributed to the lack of CEO oversight.
  • Add the Victims of Crime ombudsman to the list of vacant positions.
  • There are calls for Canada to step up and resettle asylum seekers that Israel is trying to expel from its borders.
  • Here are five government bills that have been languishing on the Order Paper.
  • Here’s a look at how the Senate plans to divide up the committee work on the marijuana bill, and how amendments will be decided upon.
  • A second Liberal MP, John MacKay, has been vocal about his dissent over the Canada Summer Jobs Grant attestation. No reprisals thus far.
  • One rural Liberal MP who weathered the previous long-gun registry controversy says the new gun control bill shouldn’t cause as many problems. We’ll see.
  • The NDP plan on tabling a motion to call on the Pope to apologise for residential schools – as though that will do anything other than be performative.
  • Colby Cosh looks at California’s bizarre system of quasi-privatized eco-regulation stemming from ballot initiatives.
  • Jen Gerson pens an excellent column about finding the balance with environmental policy, and the obstinacy of pipeline opponents and supporters.
  • Robert Hiltz wonders (with some horror) if vote-buying aside, the Ontario Liberals aren’t actually the responsible ones in the room.
  • My weekend column looked at how the current state of our political communications is lies versus pabulum. Gods help us.

Odds and ends:

Tristin Hopper wonders what the Senate has really done for us, and found numerous examples in Canadian history, most of them good.

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