Policy Wanks: Bill C-75

New omnibus bill aims to make Canada's criminal justice system more modern and efficient

An omnibus bill is a piece of legislation that affects many different acts and existing laws if it is passed. These bills are often the subject of debate due to the multifaceted nature of an omnibus bill.

Bill C-75 is just that, a highly contended omnibus bill that would increase or decrease sentencing time, change rules pertaining to bail and limit preliminary hearings, amongst other clauses.

The Department of Justice’s website says the bill aims to, “reduce delays in the criminal justice system and to make it more modern and efficient.”

    The bill is largely in response to The Jordan Decision, a 2016 Supreme Court ruling that sets the maximum amount of time a defendant can go from being charged to being seen in provincial court at 18 months. 

One way in which the Liberal bill sets out to accelerate the court process is the new addition known as routine evidence filing. According to the bill it will, “allow receiving routine police evidence in writing,” meaning that rather than a constable having to testify to the evidence in court, they can simply submit a signed affidavit.

Alarmingly, this will severely limit the cases in which a police officer can be cross-examined by the defence. The defence would have to apply to cross-examine the officer, rather than having the unequivocal right to.

“This legislation would do nothing to deal with delay,” Conservative MP, Michael Cooper said in the House of Commons. “It would require a whole new application process that defence counsel would inevitably use, resulting in more delay, not less.”

The quashing of fair trial rights in favour of alleged expedition does not stop there, however. As referenced earlier, preliminary hearings are on the chopping block unless the defendant is charged with life imprisonment. According to Statistics Canada, three per cent or 9,000 cases went to a preliminary hearing in 2014-2015.

The bill would also change a variety of offences into lesser charges. In Canada, an indictable offence is the classification used for a series offences, whereas a summary offence is the lesser category. A third classifier, a hybrid offence is given to a criminal charge wherein the prosecutor can choose to charge the defendant with a summary or indictable offence.

Bill C-75 would change the classification of 83 indictable offences to hybrid offences. Perhaps some of the most alarming changes would be the offences of advocating genocide, a threat against [an] internationally protected person and making an automatic firearm.

Under Section 2(1) of the Identification of Criminals Act, the fingerprints and/or photograph of a suspected person can only be taken under an indictable offence. If the bill were to go through, this would likely result in fewer documented fingerprints at the police’s disposal.