A group of lawyers in the Kenora District is petitioning against the Conservative government’s new tough-on-crime legislation, saying it will cause more Aboriginal people to enter the prison system.
Kenora lawyer Peter Kirby is part of the Kenora Lawyers Sentencing Group and hopes to bring at least 500 signatures to Ottawa where he has a provisional invitation to speak to the Senate on Feb. 8 about Bill C-100.
While the bill incorporates nine different pieces of legislation, most of it pertains to criminal law and the Youth Criminal Justice Act, which Kirby said will eliminate the ability of judges to impose conditional sentences for different offences such as fraud over $5000, theft of a vehicle and crimes of violence.
As result, Kirby said, more Aboriginal people will end up serving time in prison and have longer sentences.
Although Aboriginals represent only four per cent of the Canadian population, Kirby said they represent 20 per cent of the prison population.
The Kenora District contains about 30 First Nations, and Kirby often represents people from those communities.
He said a head count at the Kenora District Jail last September revealed that First Nations inmates accounted for 85 per cent of the male and 100 per cent of the female inmates.
By enacting Bill C-100, Kirby said it undermines the Gladue decision, where the Supreme Court ruled in 1999 that the Canadian justice system needed to find ways to reduce the amount of Aboriginal people in prison.
Kirby said restorative justice is a method of reducing that number, which includes conditional sentences.
“It could allow defendants to continue to live at home, to continue to work, maybe go to treatment programs,” Kirby said. “Usually conditional sentences involve house arrests.”
It could also involve probation and community hours. For youth, some restorative justice programs allow them to issue an apology or gift to the victim.
The Kenora Lawyers Sentencing Group will be collecting as many signatures as it can before Feb. 8 and hopes for more before the bill is passed.
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