|Night-time at Canada's Parliament Hill, Ottawa|
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".
CANADA'S NEW TOUGH-ON-CRIME LAW
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