On February 18, the Government of Canada unveiled a number of significant reforms to the Criminal Code and Controlled Substances Act through Bill C-22. These reforms are intended to address the overrepresentation of Indigenous and Black people, as well as those struggling with substance use and addiction, among Canada’s incarcerated population. The Society of United Professionals joins the broad range of stakeholders and advocates applauding this initiative.
The three major reforms are:
- Repealing mandatory minimum penalties for certain offences that have a disproportionate impact on Indigenous and Black offenders, as well as those with substance use and abuse issues. This will allow judges to use their discretion and consider the impact of systemic racism and discrimination when handing down a sentence.
- Allowing for greater use of conditional sentencing orders to provide a broader range of sentencing options that are geared to rehabilitation and reintegration into society.
- Require police and prosecutors to consider diversion and treatment programs rather than laying charges for simple drug possession.
While mandatory minimum penalties have long been part of populist anti-crime agendas, evidence shows that they do not dissuade criminal activity. In fact, mandatory minimums may increase recidivism and are known to exacerbate issues of systemic racism that result in the overrepresentation of Indigenous and Black people in prison.
Directly acknowledging and addressing systemic racism in the justice system and using more of a public health approach to substance use and addiction is a welcome change,” said Dana Fisher, Local Vice President of the Society of United Professionals’ Legal Aid Ontario Lawyers Local. “To ensure the success of these reforms, the government will need to ensure funds that are currently used for incarceration are redeployed to diversion and treatment programs.”
“Though this is progress, it does not mark the end of systemic racism. We implore the government to continue making strides towards a truly equitable justice system,” Fisher concluded.
The Society of United Professionals represents more than 8,500 professional workers in Ontario’s public, private, not-for-profit and regulatory sectors. Society members include more than 350 lawyers and legal workers who work with clients through the legal aid system.