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The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION
No guarantees from opposition that Tory crime agenda will be reinstated
By: Yolande Cole, THE CANADIAN PRESS
2/03/2010 5:08 PM
OTTAWA - The Conservative government may have won control of key committees after it prorogued Parliament, but that won't guarantee control of crime legislation when the House of Commons returns Wednesday.
The opposition parties are offering no guarantees that more than a dozen law-and-order bills that died with prorogation will be automatically resuscitated and fast-tracked.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper's shutting down of Parliament in late December killed the bills, some of which had already been debated in the Commons.
Ending the parliamentary session early allowed Harper time to appoint more Conservative senators and win control of key Senate committees that had held up his government's crime bills.
Polls have shown that tougher crime legislation is popular with voters, particularly women living in suburban ridings who commute to downtown areas. Those women are a key demographic target for Conservative strategists.
In the meantime, criminologists almost unanimously agree that most crime is decreasing.
Eleven justice bills died on the order paper, in addition to six public-safety bills. The government needs majority consent to reinstate this legislation at the same stage it was before Dec. 30.
Mark Holland, Liberal critic for public safety, said there are some bills his caucus wants to see passed, but he stopped short of promising blanket approval.
"There's a number of pieces of legislation that the prorogation has unnecessarily held up and need to be approved as soon as possible, including giving police additional powers to chase after criminals who are involved in issues relating to technology and Internet service providers," he said.
"On things like that, on the sex-offender registry, on many other bills, we're incredibly anxious to see that legislation be passed and we've lost a lot of time unnecessarily."
So far the only legislation that Justice Minister Rob Nicholson says he'll bring back in its original form is C-15, which would impose mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes, including marijuana grow-ops.
That bill passed third reading in the Senate but with several amendments. A spokesperson for Nicholson said the amendments watered down the bill.
"We would like to seek the opposition's support to bring back our bills, but all I can say for sure is C-15 will be reintroduced in the Senate in its original form," said Pamela Stephens.
Other justice legislation introduced last year included bills that would impose tougher sentences for auto theft and fraud.
Before Parliament was prorogued, three crime bills received royal assent, including legislation that creates new sentences for identity theft and a bill limiting the amount of credit that can be granted to offenders for time served in custody.
More details on the legislative agenda are expected in Wednesday's throne speech.
Unlike government bills, private members' bills are brought back automatically after prorogation and return to the beginning of the last stage completed in the legislative process.
That means a bill introduced by a Conservative backbencher to kill the long-gun registry remains alive at the second reading stage.