I acknowledge the strength and wisdom of our many First Nations, Métis, and Inuit. I humbly live and work on the traditional unceded territory of the Anishnaabeg nation. Following the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, may we finally listen.
Ombudsperson’s Statement on Bill C-5
An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
On November 17, 2022, the Government passed Bill C-5, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. The law removes mandatory minimum penalties for many drug offences and some firearm offences. It allows greater use of conditional sentencing and promotes diversion measures in cases of simple drug possession. These changes will help reduce the over-incarceration of Indigenous Peoples and Black Canadians disproportionately affected by mandatory minimums. As Federal Ombudsperson for Victims of Crime, I recognize that many drug possession charges emerge from contexts of trauma, victimization, and inequality. I believe the prioritization of treatment options over punishment aligns with a trauma-informed approach.
Listening to victims and survivors of crime
At the same time, violence associated with drug trafficking and firearms causes significant harm to Canadians. Many victims of crime have supported mandatory minimum penalties, believing they provide meaningful consequences. In addition, since victims and offenders often know each other and live in the same communities, support for longer sentences relates to personal safety.
The amendments in Bill C-5 offer a fresh opportunity for judges and prosecutors to listen to victims and meaningfully consider their safety concerns. The Canadian Victims Bill of Rights (CVBR) guarantees the following:
- (9) Every victim has the right to have their security considered by the appropriate authorities in the criminal justice system.
(10) Every victim has the right to have reasonable and necessary measures taken by the appropriate authorities in the criminal justice system to protect the victim from intimidation and retaliation.
- Consider victim safety when using conditional sentences: Judges should document how they have considered victim safety in conditional sentencing decisions, similar to the requirement for bail hearings.
- Update guidance for public prosecutors: Update the Desk Book for the Public Prosecution Service of Canada to include specific consideration of victim safety in new guidance on the use of conditional sentencing in cases of drug trafficking and firearm-related offences.
Dr. Benjamin Roebuck (he/him)
Federal Ombudsperson for Victims of Crime