Is crime bill C-10 right for Canada?

The Conservative government's omnibus crime bill was the main item on the legislative agenda last fall and is likely to pass the House of Commons by the time you read this. Bill C-10 (the "Safe Streets and Communities Act") covers many different areas, from drug possession to anti-terrorism laws, and debate has been fierce.

The opposition parties argue that many of the provisions are unnecessary, and will put more people in jail for longer without necessarily affecting crime itself. The government argues that the changes are necessary to ensure "criminals are held fully accountable for their actions and that the safety and security of law-abiding Canadians and victims comes first in Canada's justice system."

What should be the Christian response to this issue? It's not hard to find Christians on both sides here. Many argue from a compassionate and restorative justice perspective that the bill focuses too much on punishment, rather than rehabilitation. There's obviously a strong Christian basis for this argument, based on compassion and forgiveness.

But other Christians argue that view is only applicable on an individual basis. Victims can forgive, but it's not the state's job. So they support the government proposals that draw a strong line between right and wrong.

This is one of many issues where the Bible and Christian principles can support different perspectives. A related issue is the long-gun registry, which is also on its way to demise, or the purchase of F-35 fighters. Again, there are reasonable positions on both sides of the issues, often tied to moral questions of peace, justice, anger, vengeance, protection of human life and other important Christian principles.

When Scripture doesn't give us quick and unambiguous answers, Christians often turn to tradition and to reason. I can't pretend to give a full discussion in this small space. But the government argues that criminal justice has drifted from its longstanding emphasis on punishing wrongdoing, and become more concerned with the rights of the accused than the victims.

Opponents argue that punishment itself has been proven less effective as a deterrent, unless accompanied by rehabilitative measures and other alternatives. They point to statistics that show most Canadians already feel safe, and crime rates have been dropping for years. However, the government has countered, saying statistics don't tell the whole story—nor do they cancel out the basic principles of right and wrong.

I happen to think that, on balance, the big and complicated crime bill does go too far, and the government appears to be ignoring important evidence and expert advice on the issues. But I also think proponents have some strong arguments as well. That's the nature of public policy.

What irritates me is when anyone says they have all the answers: especially all the "Christian" answers. I certainly applaud those who carefully explain how their faith leads them to certain conclusions. But this can lead to dogmatism and inflexibility, even when others may come to different conclusions. And to be clear, I think both the political right and the left can be guilty of this.

Is the crime bill right for Canada? I'm skeptical. But I'm willing to accept that many others genuinely believe it is. To me, that's the most important Christian response of all.

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About the author

ChristianWeek Columnist

Jonathan Malloy is an associate professor of political science at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario.