Nunatsiaq Online
COMMENTARY: Around the Arctic October 16, 2011 - 1:04 pm

Tory crime bill would erode democracy, public safety

“Tough on crime policies are not sustainable”

NUNATSIAQ NEWS

On few occasions in the relatively young history of our country have Canadians engaged in an informed and rational public discussion on criminal sentencing.

In light of the tabling of Bill C-10, The Safe Streets and Communities Act, by the Conservative government on September 20th, it is essential to recall the principles and objectives supposed to underpin criminal sentencing in this country.

If, as the federal justice minister assures us, that “this is not the end; this is just the beginning of our efforts”, the current government’s legislative efforts have begun to and will radically alter and undermine not only the fundamental philosophy constituting the structure of our criminal sentencing system, but the quality of Canadian democracy itself.

In the early 1980s, concerned about an incarceration rate ranking among the highest for Western democracies and a criminal sentencing system generally considered as inconsistent and dysfunctional, the Government launched The Canadian Sentencing Commission.

The commission recommended a series of progressive changes designed to reduce incarceration rates, provide coherence and restore public confidence in the judicial system, promote greater use of non-carceral sentences, and focus on appropriate rehabilitation programs.

Despite disappointing results, the fact remains that the government and the courts at the time recognized the importance of working toward achieving these goals.

Unfortunately, Bill C-10 is part of a process, seen over the past few years, of undermining not only these propositions, but the bias in favour of moderation and individual liberties embodied in the spirit of the Charter of Rights that is so essential to the fabric of our democracy.

The objective of better serving the needs of victims of crime is legitimate and honourable. The argument that Bill C-10 accomplishes this is misleading.

Appealing to a real or perceived desire for vengeance by victims places undue emphasis on the retributive aspects of sentencing while doing little to address the root causes of crime. Moreover, this bill ignores the crucial aspects of offender rehabilitation and victim compensation.

Our system already provides for a range of measures including victim impact statements, victims’ rights legislation, compensation programs, reconciliation processes and victim service centers. Expanding and better funding these services, as well as reducing the workload of overburdened provincial and territorial prosecutors, would go a long way towards improving how victims experience the criminal justice system at a far lower cost than increasing incarceration rates.

We are particularly concerned that decades of research, which the government in fact continues to fund, clearly demonstrates that the approach taken to reducing crime is neither progressive nor likely to achieve its stated objective.

Research shows us that “tough on crime” policies are not sustainable, leading to an expensive growth in prison population with little noticeable effect on reducing crime rates.
The lessons to be drawn from the experience of our American neighbours, where crime rates have remained consistently higher than ours despite decades of increasing criminal sentences, are sobering. We have begun to notice similar trends in Canada. According to a report from Canada’s prison ombudsman, “[prison] conditions are undermining corrections” and increases in mandatory minimum sentences are leading to overcrowding.

This is concerning, as congested prisons strain rehabilitation services, which are crucial to preventing recidivism. Equally worrying is the reduction in access to pardons, which are essential for allowing past offenders to reintegrate into society.

According to the Parole Board of Canada, “since 1970 more than 400,000 Canadians have received pardons. Ninety-six per cent of these are still in force, indicating that the vast majority of pardon recipients remain crime-free in the community.”

The tragedy of the “tough on crime” approach is the detrimental impact it has on marginalized populations, especially indigenous peoples, at-risk youth and the mentally ill. The complex nature of the problems facing these groups requires the flexibility to implement alternative measures to incarceration.

Mandatory minimum sentences are particularly harmful as they erode judicial discretion, preventing judges from considering the underlying factors affecting these populations and leading to these groups being disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system.

The omnibus crime bill is steering Canada away from concerted international action and dialogue on public safety. Increasingly, states and cities around the world are implementing prevention strategies into their legislation and administrative structures, and rejecting the “tough on crime” approach. In particular, the United States have come to realize that repression is costly and ineffective.

In light of Statistics Canada data indicating a gradual but consistent decline in crime rates, we should be an example for other countries. The government should be building on the proven track records of past reforms rather than revising the policies that informed them and undoing years of constructive and fruitful work.

If Bill C-10 is passed, we will continue to witness the ongoing erosion of Canadian democracy. Public safety will decline as offenders are unduly punished and deprived of proper rehabilitation programmes.

The proposed changes will also lead to a substantial increase in spending on corrections while the majority of federal departments face ongoing budget cuts.

Considering the economic storm that the world is weathering and Canada’s high youth unemployment, the proposed bill places an onerous moral and financial burden on future generations and governments.
Is this the path we want to follow?  This is a question that requires both careful consideration and thoughtful debate, a process this government has overlooked in proposing this bill.

For this reason, we must oppose it.

Vivien Carli, M.A.
Crime Prevention Analyst

Nicholas Dumouchel, B.A.
3rd year law student, University of Montreal

Elise Groulx, Ad.E., LL.M.
Attorney at Law
President of the International Criminal Defence Attorney Association (ICDAA)
Founding and honorary president of the International Criminal Bar (ICB)

Me Geneviève Dufour,
Professor of Law
University of Sherbrooke

Sébastien Jodoin,
Trudeau Scholar, Yale University
Member of the Ontario Bar

Me François Roch
Professor of International Law
Director of the Quebec Journal of International Law
Faculty of Political Science and Law
Department of Law
Université du Québec à Montréal

Marie-Eve Sylvestre, LL.M., S.J.D.
Director, Graduate Studies in Law
Associate Professor
Faculty of Law
University of Ottawa

Kenneth Deer
Chief Administrative Officer of the Indigenous World Association

Francesco Carli, MD, MPhil, FRCA, FRCPC
Professor of Anesthesia
McGill University

Sally Weeks
Senior Anesthesiologist
Royal Victoria Hospital

Margaret Shaw
Criminologist and Social Policy Consultant

Allison Turner
Attorney and Board Member of the International Criminal Defence Attorney Association (ICDAA)

Mr. Pierre Poupart,
Criminal defence lawyer in Montréal

Mrs. Louise Esther Fortin
International Affairs advisor, retired

Mr. Yves Préfontaine, poet
Fannie Lafontaine
Professor, Faculty of Law
University of Laval

Alexandre Stylios
Professor, Faculty of Law
University of Laval

Julie Desrosiers
Professor, Faculty of Law
University of Laval

Klara Polom, B.A., L.L.B.

Marielle Nitoslwska
Professor and Chair
Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema
Concordia University

Ross Hastings
Vice-Dean Graduate Studies
Faculty of Social Sciences
University of Ottawa

Christian Nadeau
Professor of Philosophy
University of Montreal

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