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Nanaimo citizens protest Tory crime bill

Carol Nikolaisen leads a group of about 30 people who marched in protest against crime Bill C-10 Thursday. The marchers started at Maffeo-Sutton Park and stopped in front of the Nanaimo court house on Front Street before taking their protest to the Bastion Street bridge. The group is opposed to longer mandatory prison sentences and other aspects of the proposed federal legislation. - Chris Bush/The News Bulletin
Carol Nikolaisen leads a group of about 30 people who marched in protest against crime Bill C-10 Thursday. The marchers started at Maffeo-Sutton Park and stopped in front of the Nanaimo court house on Front Street before taking their protest to the Bastion Street bridge. The group is opposed to longer mandatory prison sentences and other aspects of the proposed federal legislation.
— image credit: Chris Bush/The News Bulletin

The federal government's proposed crime bill was the topic of a protest in downtown Nanaimo Thursday.

About 30 people gathered in the rain to participate in a rally that started in Maffeo Sutton Park and ended in front of the courthouse on Front Street.

Many of the participants were involved with the Occupy Nanaimo movement, in which people camped out at Diana Krall Plaza until forced to remove their tents after the city sought a civil injunction.

Bill C-10, the Safe Streets and Communities Act, is comprised of nine pieces of reform legislation debated by Parliament during the previous session that never became law.

The bill, introduced last September, proposes a number of reforms including: increased penalties for sexual offences against children, tougher sentences for the production and possession of illicit drugs for the purposes of trafficking, eliminating the use of conditional sentences (house arrest) for serious and violent crimes, ensuring adult sentences are considered for young offenders charged with serious offences, and extending ineligibility periods for pardon applications.

Jess Anderson, 55, said the bill will worsen the current backlog in the court system, which is seeing increasing numbers of cases being dismissed due to unreasonable delay.

“My big concern is the legal process is bogging down,” he said. “You've got cases being dropped against dealers, abuse cases being dropped. Even the lawyers admit the justice system needs to be changed. That to me is a bigger concern than how many people we can throw in jail."

Amanda Orum, 25, has protested the legislation since it was introduced.

While the bill is in the final stages before it becomes law, Orum believes the rally serves an important function in building awareness.

"All these people will remember next election what Harper did," said Orum, who helped organize the rally.

Orum said the solution is for the federal government to legalize marijuana, as opposed to toughening sentences, so that it can be taxed and regulated like alcohol.

"I believe the drug war should end," she said. "How many people died from alcohol last year? Thousands. How many died from cannabis? No one."

For Ken Hiebert, 66, the point to get across is that the bill's intent to get "tough on crime" won't necessarily lead to less crime, but giving people more job opportunities and enacting better social assistance policies will.

"When people have other prospects in their lives – a prospect of housing and employment – people are less likely to get involved in crime," he said.

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