OTTAWA, ON — On October 25, 2018, the House of Commons Justice Committee made changes to Bill C-75 that mirror suggestions that Jewish organizations CIJA and B’nai Brith Canada made in testimony to the committee.
Bill C-75 aims to make significant alterations to Canada’s criminal justice system, in large part to reduce backlog in the courts. This includes changing a number of indictable offences to hybrid offences, allowing the Crown the option of prosecuting these crimes as lighter, summary offences.
As one of its core priorities, CIJA has been advocating for various crimes to be exempt from re-designation, arguing that advocating genocide and terror-related crimes should always be treated as serious, indictable offences. This includes crimes such as leaving Canada to commit terrorist acts or being a member of a banned terrorist entity.
Members of the Justice Committee agreed to changes that ensure terror-related crimes remain indictable offences, and signalled they will do the same for the crime of advocating genocide.
In response, Martin Sampson, Vice President, Communications and Marketing at the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), issued the following:
“We’re very pleased to see multi-party support for these common sense changes to Bill C-75, which we raised in testimony to the committee. The goal of making the justice system more efficient is an important one. But advocating genocide and engaging in terrorism are a small fraction of criminal cases in Canada, and allowing them to be prosecuted as lighter, summary offences would have virtually no impact on reducing court backlogs.
“While the Jewish community has a painful history of being targeted for these grave crimes, these offences also pose a broader threat to Canadian values and society. As a person charged with a summary offence is not usually held in custody but is given notice to appear in court, it is all the more vital that they remain indictable offences. This will ensure that such cases are always treated with the full weight of the law.
Order of Canada recipient David Matas, B’nai Brith Senior Legal Counsel, prepared an advance brief for the committee while prominent criminal lawyer and B’nai Brith National Counsel Leo Adler provided expert testimony on behalf of the organization. Brian Herman, Director of Government Relations for B’nai Brith, also testified.
“Clear penalties are necessary for deterrence,” Herman told the committee. “We ask committee members to consider carefully the signals they would send by endorsing hybridization of those offences.”
Liberal MP Colin Fraser, a member of the committee, told the National Post “it was the testimony from B’nai Brith and other groups that ultimately convinced the Liberals.”
“I really think that (terrorism and genocide) are distinguishable from the other offences,” he said. “It wasn’t political pressure, it was more just feeling it was the correct thing to do … This is an offence against a community of people, and it’s viewed as a crime against society as a whole. And obviously there’s a historical context to these sorts of offences that needs to be taken into account.”
Michael Mostyn, Chief Executive Officer of B’nai Brith Canada, said he was pleased the committee both listened to and adopted B’nai Brith’s recommendations.
“The law must always consider genocide and terrorism as the severe criminal offences that they are,” Mostyn said. “B’nai Brith is pleased the Justice Committee has taken our concerns seriously. We must send a clear message that Canada has a zero-tolerance policy on terrorism and mass murder. Such evil and indiscriminate hatred must be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”