Friday, March 23, 2012

Canada, tough on crime? Strange things done in the midnight sun...

Night-time at Canada's Parliament Hill, Ottawa
Inside the neighborhood. That's where crime is prevented and community is built. That's why federal politics rarely appear here. Today, briefly, Leroy changed my mind.

Leroy Smickle is a 30-year old Toronto father with no criminal record. In 2009 he was at his cousin's apartment and, discovering a loaded handgun, hatched a bone-headed idea. Holding the gun in one hand and a laptop computer in the other, he began snapping pictures of himself wearing sunglasses and boxer shorts. Apparently, to the infantile, this looks cool.

At that very moment [I'm not making this up....honest] a police tactical squad busted down the door to arrest Smickle's cousin on another matter. And there was Smickle, in flagrante delicto, gun in hand, sunglasses, laptop clicking away, boxer shorts, well… you get the picture. Talk about a bad visual. Talk about bad luck!

Fast forward. After 7 months of pre-trial incarceration, Smickle came in front of Judge Anne Molloy. Mandatory sentencing rules required her to send Smickle to another 3 years in prison. Three years, no record, for a bone-headed stunt.

Instead she gave him 5 months in-house arrest and called the mandatory sentencing "outrageous".


In truth, except for a new law just passed in Ottawa, the Smickle caper is little more than tabloid fodder. But today that changed. Canada's federal conservative government voted sweeping tough-on-crime legislation into law (mandatory sentences, more prison-building, etc).

I've criticized BC courts for leniency in prior blogs. Mandatory sentencing would seem the answer. In fact, the BC Premier (and other western Premiers) supports the new law. But mandatory sentencing rarely works and more prisons just fill up. Ontario and Quebec oppose the law.

What about the public? A recent non-scientific poll found 86% wanted more prevention. Only 8% wanted more punishments.

Restorative justice advocates call it a step backwards. Canadian criminologists feel the same.

Even justice officials in Texas, the most conservative of all States, say the new Canadian law won't work. They've tried and it failed. In fact they are repealing their mandatory sentences in favor of drug treatment and community supervision.

With apologies to great Canadian poet Robert Service, there truly are strange things done in the midnight sun. I fear there are dark days ahead in the Canadian justice system.

Canadian criminologist Evelyn Zellerer describes restorative justice as one alternative to new Canadian law

5 Replies so far - Add your comment

  1. Unfortunately I must agree that Canada is taking a huge step backwards with these mandatory sentences as one shoe does not fit all feet.

    When society is not prepared to deal with the root causes of the problem the simple solution is to remove the symptom but you must address the size of your “disposal site” and the long term costs and social fallout due to the leaching from your “disposal site”.

    What is perhaps more concerning is whether this government actually believes this is the correct solution with all the evidence out there to the contrary or is this just a self serving path to attract more votes. Either way this will be a significant learning curve for Canadian society that will waste both time and money that could have been more appropriately channeled to deal with the root causes driving anti-social behavior.

    Greg M

  2. I'd love to hear a politician campaign about getting "smart on crime."

  3. Me too, Tim. Problem is an ill-educated electorate. Check out "Just How Stupid Are We?" by Shenkman...a much shorter book than it should have been!

    Greg, if they are just getting votes, shame on us. If they truly believe it, shame on them. Either way, check out the book above. It's US based, but applies equally to Canada.

  4. Thanks Greg for this contribution. Strange and sad times for Canada indeed.

    I wholeheartedly agree too with the prior comments; Harper pushing through this omnibus crime bill is a huge step backward when we desperately need to get smart on crime instead. The evidence is crystal clear. Some prominent voices spoke to government, including judges, corrections officials, and victims. Yet it was ignored.

    I'm thrilled that some officials have the courage to question the new laws, and I pray for creativity in moving forward in the best possible way given these awful constraints. And a speedy learning curve to make changes!

    There is another more effective approach available: restorative justice.

    I was surprised to see my face at the bottom of your blog Greg! Thanks so much for posting my interview!

  5. Thanks Evelyn. Agree on all points.

    I doubt that praying for creativity and questioning new laws is enough. Good first steps perhaps. As you know all too well, we need tried and true methods, proven by evidence. Restorative Justice, SafeGrowth and problem-oriented policing, as we all have been saying, are among the best. Sadly the government just didn't listen.

    If we stay true, eventually they will. Change might be glacial. But no power is greater than ice to carve a mark in the face of granite opposition.


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