Liberals firing blanks on crime
By LINDA WILLIAMSON
Sunday, August 21, 2005
It's been a rough week for those of us who still like to believe justice can exist in this country.
First there was the horrific Lynda Shaw case in London, Ont.: Her murderer from 10 years ago, determined through DNA evidence, turned out to be a man who had already killed a cop and a taxi driver, but was somehow let out of prison for "good behaviour."
Then, while federal authorities were still mumbling platitudes about an investigation to make sure such a travesty never happens again, we were slapped with the news of the Taber killer: The now-20-year-old who shot dead a classmate in his small-town Alberta school turned out to be living in a Toronto halfway house, which he fled, forcing police to issue a nationwide media alert.
But when he was apprehended the next day, the media were once again banned from publishing his name, as we have been since he committed the crime as a 14-year-old.
Yes, the good old Young Offenders Act, with its paltry sentences and crazy publication bans that apparently protect teenage killers for the rest of their lives, haunts us still.
Meantime, Toronto's gun-murder toll continued to mount. A torontosun.com online poll, while far from scientific, nicely captured the public mood: To the question "Should possession of an illegal firearm result in a mandatory prison sentence?" a whopping 87% of respondents said Yes. Only 13% said No.
Police tell us their efforts against gangs and guns are constantly hampered by courts that release the gangsters back to the streets with just a slap on the wrist. If the laws already on the books, which call for "mandatory" time for firearms offences, aren't being enforced, the obvious question becomes, why not make them tougher and make them stick?
Well, Sun reader James Osborne, of Innisfil, took the trouble to put that question to federal Justice Minister Irwin Cotler himself. I'm indebted to Osborne for forwarding Cotler's response to me — it offers a highly revealing glimpse into the mind of the Liberals' top legal man in Ottawa; so much so that I'm reprinting it here:
"Dear Mr. Osborne: I appreciate your concerns regarding crimes committed with a weapon. Please be assured that the Criminal Code provides stiff penalties for the use of weapons, including knives and firearms, in the commission of an offence....
"The existing penalties to deal with gun crimes are among the harshest in the Criminal Code. Our criminal justice system has always been premised on the notion that the fundamental principe of sentencing is proportionality, with the Criminal Code clealry stating that 'A sentence must be proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender.' The objectives of sentencing include deterrence (both general and specific), denunciation, rehabilitation, reparation, accountability to victims and the community, and separation from society where necessary.
"You suggest that sentences should be more severe. There has been a great deal of research done on the subject of deterrence, and the overwhelming finding is that harsh penalties do not generally deter individuals from committing crime. It is the likelihood of arrest and conviction that acts as a deterrent — not the severity of the possible punishment.
"Furthermore in comparative terms, Canada's incarceration rate is higher than most western democracies. Canada's regime for high-risk, violent offenders is particularly severe with options of 'long-term offender' and 'dangerous offender' status, the latter calling for indeterminate imprisonment.
"Thank you again for writing and sharing your views. Yours sincerely, Irwin Cotler."
Kind of says it all, doesn't it? Next time you wonder what the Liberal vision of justice is in this country, turn back to this letter for handy reference. Better yet, you might question the minister yourself about his, ahem, interesting interpretation of "harsh" penalties. His email is [email protected]
© Canoe Inc 2005