Proposed amendments to the Criminal Code
The Government of Canada is committed to ensuring the criminal justice system keeps all Canadians, their families, and communities safe. Recent events have further highlighted the systemic discrimination and disproportionate representation of Indigenous peoples, as well as Black Canadians and members of marginalized communities as offenders and victims in the criminal justice system. Taking steps to address this reality is critical to building a fairer, more effective justice system that keeps us all safe while ensuring serious criminals still face serious punishment. Today, the Honourable David Lametti, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, introduced proposed amendments to the Criminal Code and to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
These proposed changes would reform sentencing measures for certain offences, including by repealing some of the mandatory minimum penalties of imprisonment (MMPs) that contribute to higher rates of imprisonment and disproportionately affect Indigenous peoples and Black Canadians. Together with Bill C-21, An Act to amend certain Acts and to make certain consequential amendments (firearms), which proposes to increase maximum penalties for certain firearms offences related to gun smuggling and trafficking, this will ensure the courts are better equipped to impose appropriate sentences that keep communities safe. The legislation also increases the availability of conditional sentence orders (CSOs) where appropriate, and encourages greater use of diversion programs.
In keeping with the Government’s public-health centred approach to addiction and the opioid epidemic that has affected families and communities across the country, this Bill proposes specific amendments to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. These changes would require police and prosecutors to consider alternatives, including diverting individuals to treatment programs, instead of laying charges or prosecuting individuals for simple drug possession.
The Bill proposes the following specific reforms:
- Repeal mandatory minimum penalties of imprisonment (MMP) for all CDSA offences and certain firearms and tobacco offences in Criminal Code to address the disproportionate impact on Indigenous and Black offenders, as well as those struggling with substance use and addiction. This would restore the ability of a judge to impose appropriate sentences that respond to the facts of the case before them, including the individual’s experience with systemic racism and the risk they pose to public safety. This moves away from the one-size-fits-all approach, which has not deterred crime but has resulted in unfair outcomes and a less effective criminal justice system, as well as longer and more complex trials.
- Allow for greater use of conditional sentence orders (CSO) by removing Conservative-imposed restrictions that resulted in the overincarceration of Indigenous peoples, particularly Indigenous women, and Black and marginalized Canadians. Conditional sentences are available in cases where an offender faces a term of less than two years’ imprisonment and does not pose a threat to public safety. Under these circumstances, judges would have the option to order that the term be served in the community under strict conditions, including house arrest, curfew, and mandatory counselling or treatment for substance abuse. This change would allow for more effective rehabilitation and reintegration by enabling individuals to maintain their employment, or continue caring for children or family members in need. This approach has been proven to reduce the chance of offenders committing further crimes.
- Require police and prosecutors to consider other measures for simple possession of drugs such as diversion to addiction treatment programs, rather than laying charges or prosecuting individuals for simple possession of an illegal drug. The proposed amendments to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act reinforce the Government’s commitment to treat substance use a health issue, and address the opioid crisis. It also aligns with calls heard from advocates, courts, prominent law enforcement agencies and local leaders across the country.