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Canada’s Federal Election: Consider the Parties’ Criminal Justice Policies When You Vote


Canadians are set to mark their ballots in the federal election on Monday October 19th.

Undoubtedly, both big picture issues (e.g. fiscal policy) and idiosyncratic concerns (e.g. why does the Prime Minister refuse to grow a hipster beard) will drive decisions at the ballot box.

Arguably, in a mix of issues large and small, universal and singular, the electorate should also contemplate the track records, policies and candidate positions on criminal justice as they prepare to vote.


The governing Conservative Party has a tangible track record and clear philosophy on questions of justice, particularly criminal justice. Generally speaking, the Conservatives have pursued, among other things,

  • more minimum sentences for various crimes including sexual and drug trafficking offences,
  • new or enhanced criminal offences focused on problematic use of the internet,
  • criminalizing conduct or practices which have been associated with cultural groups which are newer to Canada,
  • changes to bail, the availability of house arrest sentences and parole aimed at keeping arrested persons or offenders in custody (i.e. real jail) and in custody longer,
  • repeated appeals where criminal legislation it supported or enacted was found to violate the constitution,
  • greater legislative recognition for “victims’ rights”, and
  • increased powers for police and security authorities for investigating terrorism and internet-related crimes.

Obviously, voters will consider whether these criminal justice pursuits suit their personal tastes as another Conservative majority government will continue on this path. For full consideration of the Conservative agenda on criminal justice, however, they should also examine how well the party’s policies and legislation have complied with the Charter of Rights, fit with the evidence about the trends in and prevalence of particular crimes and crime generally, protected the public purse,  impacted particular identifiable groups in Canadian society, and produced empirical results indicative of increased public safety and decreased criminal activity.


Leading in some polls, the Liberal Party has not held power in Parliament for basically a decade and have no recent justice track record as the governing party. Still, Liberal MP’s were called upon to vote on many Conservative crime bills. Notably, as a party it voted in favour of the Conservative’s Anti-Terrorism legislation, Bill C-51.

The Liberal election platform addresses a number of justice issues and asserts some specifics including:

Voters assessing the Liberals’ criminal justice objectives could be expected to consider the cost requirements for implementation, whether certain planks are redundant to existing legislative provisions, or whether any proposed changes to the bail system, anti-terrorism laws or other criminal legislation reflect a proper balance among guaranteed rights (for e.g., the right to liberty or the right to a reasonable bail), effective promotion of desired outcomes (for e.g., in the “domestic violence” context, will complainants be better off legally and practically and will the cost of that improvement be reasonable in view of the costs to borne by accused persons who may lose their jobs, etc. as a result of an unfavourable bail decision), and the need to denounce certain conduct and promote public safety.


The New Democratic Party has never governed Canada but it broke through federally in the last election under the Jack Layton’s charismatic and energized leadership to become the official opposition. Sadly, Layton has since passed away, but the NDP subsequently secured stable leadership with Tom Mulcair, a former lawyer in Quebec’s civil service.

The NDP’s approach to criminal justice evinces an emphasis on funding pragmatic initiatives (rather than focusing on changes to the criminal legislation) to address crime. Its positions include the following:

  • “Work with provinces, territories, municipalities and Indigenous communities to provide stable, ongoing funding to put 2,500 new officers on the streets and keep them there;
  • Ensuring that communities have the resources they need to invest in crime prevention and anti-gang programs – especially those designed for youth – by investing an additional $30 million;
  • Giving police the tools they need to do their job by tackling the backlog in the Canadian Police Information Centre database, known as CPIC, a national tool for police and prosecutors to check the criminal history of suspects and those charged with or convicted of new offences;
  • Immediately decriminalizing possession of personal amounts of marijuana;
  • Adopting recommendations of the Correctional Investigator of Canada to ensure appropriate care, treatments and procedures are available in prison for offenders with mental illness; and
  • Improving access to prison rehabilitation programs, which are proven to reduce the rate of re-offence.”

With a patently different emphasis in the NDP justice platform relative to the Liberals and the Conservatives, voters considering the NDP will obviously ask themselves whether their values track with the NDP’s anticipated methods. Because the Orange plan to spend money on the criminal justice file, some may need clearer answers on how much they plan to spend and will the amounts be significant enough to make a difference (or just enough to be a waste of money).


The Green Party of Canada is still waiting to make a breakthrough at both the federal and provincial levels of government across the country.

For those still prepared to ignore the siren’s song to vote “strategically” and avoid “wasting” their ballots by voting in direct alignment with their personal views, the Green Party has an established justice policy platform for consideration.

Part 4.11 of its platform is aspirationally entitled “Striving for justice” and asserts the following positions as part of a larger, detailed and comprehensive program with both legislative and funding initiatives:

  • “Repeal all the Harper era criminal laws creating mandatory minimum sentences;
  • Review the Young Offenders Act to ensure it is not an inducement to youth crime, while retaining its core principle, that youth should not be treated as hardened criminals;
  • Improve the Victims Bill of Rights to include the Marcy’s Law provisions from California (ensuring victims are fully informed of their rights);
  • Dedicate resources to computer crimes specialists combating the online sexual exploitation of children through child pornography and Internet luring. The RCMP must have the necessary resources and tools to tackle this problem on a national scale. The Harper era legislation fails to provide tools, while intruding excessively on privacy rights of law-abiding Canadians;
  • Provide guidance for judges making bail determinations to avoid release for violent crimes when there is a risk of re-offending. Those who post bail also need to be held accountable if the accused does not show up in court. Money pledged as bail must be collected;
  • Repeal C-36 (the so-called ‘Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act’) and pass legislation that makes sense based on the New Zealand model;
  • Press for the creation of a Canadian Securities Crime Unit within the RCMP in order to provide for the public safety of our pension funds and personal retirement savings throughout Canada. If it is to be effective, securities crime policing must be done independently of the securities regulators and the investment industry; and
  • Sign and ratify the Arms Control Treaty to stem the flow of conventional weapons to terrorist organizations.”

In any election, it is easy for voters to take a simplistic approach to justice issues rooted in gut responses and “us versus them” mentalities. Arguably, it is problematic that discussions about and analyses of these issues are often denuded of balance, evidentiary support and subtlety.

But if Canadians can resist the urge to take a facile approach, remind themselves on how justice issues impact their various communities, and consider the proposition that every person is one bad day away from becoming a criminal accused, they will be better situated to integrate party justice policies into their decision matrix for election day.

Enjoy your democratic right. See you at the polls.


photo source: Ottawa Citizen (