Bill S-10: Mandatory Minimum Misinformation

By Frank Discussion

All of the parties need to give their heads a shake and really critically examine how these laws that are being passed are going to negatively impact the entire country.”
– Kim Pate, executive director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies.

Imagine the following scenario: You’re at a car dealership and the salesperson—let’s call him Stephen Harper—claims to have just the right car for you. He directs you to the new S-10 model.

Stephen claims the S-10 is a true performer, and is designed to increase your safety. He opens the door and motions for you to take a seat inside. Stephen is making the car sound so great you’re becoming convinced that buying the S-10 would be a logical decision.

“Nice car. What does it cost?” you ask.

“Don’t worry about the price,” Stephen replies. “The S-10 is worth it at any price. Trust me.”

Assuming he was joking, you ask again. Stephen tells you the price is something he would rather not share. “It’s a matter of dealership confidence,” he insists. “Customers who buy the S-10 are not allowed to know the true cost until after they buy it.”

Perplexed, but still interested to know more, you ask, “What are others saying about the car? Do the experts recommend it?”

The only recommendation Stephen could come up with was an endorsement given by his own dealership, PM Power & Associates.

Frustrated, and more than a little suspicious, you leave the dealership determined to try to understand what just happened. If the S-10 is so great, then why didn’t Stephen know of any credible organizations that endorsed it, and why was he being so secretive about the price?

Once back home, a quick web search for “S-10” reveals that Stephen Harper was not being truthful with you. You find plenty of reports and research on this car, but all of it concludes that buying it is a terrible mistake. “It’s outrageously expensive, riddled with defects, and a threat to society. Stay far away from this car. You’ll pay through the nose and get nothing in return but more problems,” was the advice from the experts.

Further research reveals that a version of this car has been used in the United States for many years with disastrous results. Fortunately, though, Americans have learned their lesson and are now moving away from using this car. Even the U.S. “Car Czar,” during a recent visit to Canada, warned that buying the S-10 is “just being dumb on cars.”

The above analogy accurately represents the fraud Stephen Harper is currently perpetrating on an unsuspecting Canadian public in the form of Bill S-10—legislation that seeks to impose Mandatory Minimum Sentences (MMS) for a variety of drug offences.

If you wouldn’t buy the “S-10” from car salesman Stephen, then you definitely won’t want to buy Bill S-10 from Prime Minister Stephen, either. Despite overwhelming evidence, including two studies prepared for the Department of Justice that conclude MMS are ineffective, the Harper government is undeterred.

Below are some quotes and information that demonstrate the significant disconnect between what the Harper Conservatives are telling Canadians about this bill, and what its opponents are warning.

1. Will Bill S-10 deter crime?

Rob Nicholson, the Conservative Justice Minister who’s leading the charge to pass this bill, used to be opposed to the use of mandatory minimums. In 1988, he was vice-chairman of a parliamentary committee that rejected the expansion of automatic incarceration, asserting that it doesn’t work, overcrowds jails, and takes too hefty of a social and financial toll. These are the same points currently being made by opponents of Bill S-10.

During a recent visit to Canada, U.S. Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske characterized the use of MMS as “being dumb on drugs,” and that lawmakers in “almost every single state” in the U.S. are looking to reduce mandatory minimum penalties because prison populations have exploded with non-violent drug offenders.

2. Will Bill S-10 make Canadians safer?

“The Canadian Bar Association suggests that public safety concerns can be met with existing laws. The Bill could create unjust and disproportionate sentences and ultimately would not achieve its intended goal of greater public safety.”
—Joshua Weinstein, the past chair of the CBA’s National Criminal Justice Section.

“To impose minimum sentences that do not distinguish between the kingpin drug seller doing it purely for profit and exploitation and low-level dealers will only clog the courts and jails. It will do nothing to enhance public safety.”
—Phil Downes (Representative, Canadian Council of Criminal Defence Lawyers).

3. Who will Bill S-10 target?

Here’s what the Conservative government would have us believe.

“The bill specifically targets gangs and other organized criminal groups who participate in the illegal drug trade. Our Government’s message is clear: drug lords should pay with jail time,”
– Daniel Petit, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Here’s the reality of who will be targeted by Bill S-10.

“The problem is that nothing in the legislation distinguishes between the young person who is trafficking in marijuana—bear in mind, trafficking is simply providing to someone else—and the high-level drug dealer. If the policy goal is to attack the sophisticated and exploitive drug dealers, nothing inherently in the legislation does that.”
– Phil Downes

Keep in mind that if Bill S-10, misleadingly titled “Penalties for Organized Drug Crime Act,” is allowed to pass, a university student growing six or more cannabis plants who sells or gives any of it to his friends, or a student who exchanges a pill of ecstasy with a classmate, will be treated the same as a kingpin drug dealer.

4. How much will Bill S-10 cost?

Good question. The Conservative government has refused to provide information on the full costs that will result from this bill’s implementation. “I’d rather not share that” was Public Safety Minister Vic Toews’s response when questioned by reporters.

What is known, however, is that the financial burden will fall on provincial governments. “It’s up to the provinces to find their share of the money to handle an expected surge in the prison population,” said Toews.

Unofficial estimates predict the cost of implementing Bill S-10, to B.C. alone, will be over $200 million, and the total national cost will be in the billions of dollars. Currently, there are at least 22 new provincial/territorial prisons being built in Canada, and 15 additions are being made to existing facilities.

With crime at 30-year lows, and a large national deficit, aren’t there much better ways to spend taxpayers’ money?

To summarize, Bill S-10 will not deter crime, it will cost taxpayers billions, it will do nothing to enhance public safety, and it will overflow prisons with low-level offenders who will come out of prison worse than when they went in.

All Canadians have reason to oppose this bill. Any Canadian, who cares about the health and safety of our communities, has reason to oppose this bill. Any Canadian, who disagrees with wasting billions of tax dollars on a policy that’s sure to fail, has reason oppose this bill. Any Canadian, who expects policy to be based on solid evidence and sound decision-making, has reason oppose this bill.

This legislation must be stopped in order to prevent disastrous consequences for the entire country. Your MP needs to know you oppose Bill S-10. Bill S-10 is currently in the House of Commons, having already passed the Senate on December 13, 2010.

Politicians, particularly elected ones, are highly susceptible to constituent pressure. Now is a crucial time to contact your Member of Parliament to urge him or her to vote NO on Bill S-10, while there’s still a chance of stopping it.

The purpose of contacting your MP is to embolden them, and to make them aware that concerned members of their constituency are informed about this bill and are expecting him or her to commit to the principled and courageous decision to vote NO on Bill S-10 in the House of Commons.

I use the word “courageous” because, unfortunately, in today’s sound-bite politics the threat of being labeled as “soft on crime” is a real concern to elected politicians. Some members of the Liberal Party have acknowledged this as the reason they allowed the previous version of this bill, Bill C-15, to pass a vote in the House of Commons. (Bill C-15 subsequently died when Harper prorogued Parliament in December 2009)

The Harper Conservatives claim that Bill S-10 has widespread support among Canadians. Prove Harper wrong by contacting your MP and making your opposition known.

For more information about Bill S-10, including Member of Parliament contact information, source links for quotes used in this article, videos and tran- scripts from Bill C-15 and Bill S-10 Senate Com- mittee meetings, downloadable S-10 handouts, and more, visit <>