November 25, 2007
In a widely read article1 Montreal Law Professor Dumont (2001) wrote, “How can our criminal laws better reflect the public’s concern for safety, while promoting their desire for a democratic society based on peace, liberty, tolerance and justice? To accomplish this goal, legislators and the Canadian public as a whole, should try to apply more reason than fear in developing criminal law infrastructure for safety. They must recognize the symbolic and political power of criminal laws, and determine the effectiveness of each punitive measure in terms of securing personal and public safety. Finally, legislators must always choose the solutions that will result in a peaceful, free, tolerant, and just society (Dumont 2001 ).”
The Canadian public supports mandatory sentences more as a way of denouncing crime than deterring it. Two out of three Canadians support mandatory minimum penalties even if research showed they would not reduce the likelihood of re-offence and 74 per cent of Canadians think sentencing is too lenient (Crutcher, Roberts, Verbrugge 2007).
In May 2006 the Canadian Minister of Justice talked about tackling crime and restoring confidence in the justice system. Law professor Peter Rosenthal questioned the degree to which harsher penalties were being promoted out of political interest in response to popular opinion and lacking in evidence-based research (SCJHR 2006).
“The most conclusive study on mandatory minimum sentences was conducted for the Solicitor General of Canada, by Mr. Crutcher and Mr. Tabor. These studies are very clear: mandatory minimum sentences do not act as deterrent, nor do they have an incidence when it comes to reoffending. There is no doubt about this. There is a whole host of studies demonstrating that they do not work. This bill is ideologically based and attempts to give a false sense of security (Réal Ménard to the SCJHR 2006:34).”
Keywords: sociology, justice and human rights, public policy, evidence-based, social exclusion, at-risk to social exclusion, criminology, tough-on-crime, anti-crime, media and crime reporting, aboriginals and crime, mental illness, mandatory minimum sentences, political attractiveness,
1. The article was cited at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights (2006) as capturing LEAF’s position on Bill C-10.
1980s “[I]n the late 1980s, the Canadian Bar Association issued a report called Locking Up Natives in Canada. One of the things they found in that report, looking at Saskatchewan, was that—and all these figures have gotten much worse—aboriginal youth in Saskatchewan are more likely to go to jail than to graduate from high school. The point was made in that report that jails were becoming our contemporary residential schools. That is certainly true [in 2006], as we see 22% of inmates in Canada being aboriginals. Those numbers are up. Every year, those numbers go up (SCJHR 2006).”
2005 There were 10 gun-related murders and 45 shootings in Jamestown, a small Toronto neighbourhood. Toronto police apprehended 106 members of the Jamestown Crew in 2006. Since then there have been no murders in Jamestown and very few shootings. [. . .T]he truly violent are a relatively small number. In Jamestown [the police] kept about 45 people in custody [in the summer of 2006] summer and the level of violent crime in that community plummeted by over 50% (SCJHR 2006:4, 8 ).
2006In May 2006 the Canadian Minister of Justice talked about tackling crime and restoring confidence in the justice system. There was question about the degree to which harsher penalties were being promoted out of political self interest in response to popular opinion (SCJHR 2006).
2006 Gun-related homicides in Canada fell by 16 per cent (CanWest 2007).
2006 22% of inmates in Canadian prisons are aboriginals.
2007 Statistics Canada’s website reported in July, 2007 that “Canada’s overall national crime rate, based on incidents reported to police, hit its lowest point in over 25 years in 2006, driven by a decline in non-violent crime. The crime rate dropped by 3%, mainly due to declines in break-ins, thefts under $5,000 and counterfeiting. The national crime rate has decreased by about 30% since peaking in 1991. The rate fell in every province and territory, with the largest drops reported in Prince Edward Island, Alberta, New Brunswick, British Columbia and Saskatchewan. The total violent crime rate remained virtually unchanged from 2005, mainly due to the stability in the rate of minor assaults, which account for 6 in 10 violent crimes. The national homicide rate fell 10%, halting two years of increases. However, increases were reported in many serious violent crimes such as attempted murder, aggravated assault, assault with a weapon, robbery and kidnapping/forcible confinement. The property crime rate dropped 4% from 2005, as the rate of break-ins fell 5% to its lowest level in over 30 years. The rate of motor vehicle theft also declined, down 2%. The crime rate among young persons aged 12 to 17 rose 3% in 2006, the first increase since 2003. The rise was driven by increases in mischief and disturbing the peace. The rate of young people accused of homicide was the highest since 1961, when data were first collected. Statistics Canada bases their [. . .] In Canada, there are two primary sources of statistical information on crime: police-reported surveys and victimization surveys completed by Canadians from randomly selected households. This report is based on police-reported data released today in an annual Juristat by the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics (CCJS). Data on incidents that come to the attention of the police are captured and forwarded to the CCJS via the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) survey according to a nationally-approved set of common scoring rules, categories and definitions. UCR data are available back to 1962 for the nation, provinces and territories, and to 1991 at the census metropolitan area (CMA) level (homicide data are available back to 1981 at the CMA level (SC 2007).”
Webliography and Bibliography
CanWest News Service. 2007. “Tory crime bill a solution in search of a problem, criminologists argue.” November 23. Ottawa, Canada.
Crutcher, Nicole; Roberts, Julian V.; Verbrugge, Paul. 2007. “Public attitudes to sentencing in Canada: exploring recent findings.” Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice. Jan 01, 2007.
Online abstract: “This article reports findings from two representative public-opinion surveys that explored Canadians’ attitudes toward three important sentencing issues: the severity of sentencing; the purposes of sentencing; and mandatory sentences of imprisonment. As has been found by polls over the past 30 years, most Canadians believe that sentencing practices are too lenient. The same result emerged from a poll conducted in 2005: 74% of respondents held the view that sentencing is too lenient–a finding consistent with polls conducted throughout the 1980s. With respect to the purposes of sentencing, … (CJCCJ 2007)”
Dumont, Helene. 2001. “Disarming Canadians, and Arming them with Tolerance: Banning Firearms and Minimum Sentences to Control Violent Crime, An Essay on an Apparent Contradiction.” Osgoode Hall Law Journal. 39:2 & 3.
Dumont, Helene. 1997. “Disarming Canadians, and Arming them with Tolerance: Banning Firearms and Minimum Sentences to Control Violent Crime, An Essay on an Apparent Contradiction.” First published in French.
Doob, Anthony N.; Carla Cesaroni. 2001. “The Political Attractiveness of Mandatory Minimum Sentences.” Osgoode Hall Law Journal. 39:295.
Fekete, Jason. 2007. “Alberta draws strategy to bust crime boom.” Calgary Herald. November 11.
Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights (SCJHR). 2006. Evidence. November 23. No. 034. 1st Session of 39th Parliament of Canada. Ottawa, Canada.
Statistics Canada (SC). 2007. The Daily.
Flynn-Burhoe, Maureen. 2007. “It’s not politically attractive but more reason, less fear needed in developing criminal law.” >> Google docs. November 24.Flynn-Burhoe, Maureen. 2007. “It’s not politically attractive but more reason, less fear needed in developing criminal law.” >> Speechless. November 24.