Ford’s aim way off on gun crime strategy

Posted on in Child & Family Policy Context

ThdeStar.com – Opinion/Contributors
Aug. 13, 2018.   By

If all of the above is true, then we can expect him to soon see through the folly of making a deficient bail system even worse than it already is. While Ford is negotiating this learning curve, however, it is imperative to speak out against measures such as his announced plan to have “SWAT teams” of prosecutors swoop into courthouses to oppose bail for anyone accused of a gun crime at a cost of nearly $8 million.

Blanket opposition to bail in these cases constitutes a dog whistle policy that will do nothing to appease the fears of citizens who are rightly worried about a spike in gun violence. It is a policy that promises to be futile and racially discriminatory. It will waste massive amounts of money and blot the pursuit of equal justice.

First, money. The John Howard Society calculates that it costs taxpayers $217 per day to jail an inmate in Ontario. Compare that to the $5 per day it takes to monitor an accused person out on bail. The province also pays for the transfer of inmates to and from the courthouse while they are in detention. Putting people behind bars needlessly is simply an affront to financial good sense.

Denying bail across the board will also do little or nothing to reduce gun crime. A 2013 federal Department of Justice study found that 98 per cent of bail violations are administrative offences, such as an accused person breaching release conditions or failing to appear in court. Only two per cent related to substantive, new offences. Without evidence that alleged gun crime offenders are committing new offences while out on bail, Ford is firing a cannon ball to kill a non-existent fly.

Logic, too, has a place in this debate. Consider our experience with mandatory minimum sentences. Gun sentences have tripled since significantly harsher mandatory minimums were introduced for gun crimes in 2008, yet these sentences have had no discernible impact on stemming gun violence.

Moreover, there is nothing to suggest the current system on bail isn’t working. The Attorney General’s office already has a team of Guns and Gangs prosecutors ready to appear in courts across the province to address bail. They are experienced and capable of identifying when alleged gun offenders should be detained or released. And the Crown policy manual already directs prosecutors to oppose bail in all but exceptional circumstances and to agree to bail only with the approval of a senior Crown attorney.

Prosecutors are invested with the independence to assess the release plan for an accused person, the possibility they might flee the jurisdiction or reoffend. It is simply wrong to go a giant step further and use Crown prosecutors as instruments of an ideological war.

Nor, are bail decisions ultimately up to prosecutors. It is judges who decide whether bail should be granted or denied, and they will not be influenced by rhetoric and grandstanding.

In addition, blanket opposition to bail is morally unfair and legally unconstitutional. It is antithetical to a justice system predicated on treating each distinctive case on its own merits and context.

And lest we forget, since many accused people are ultimately acquitted or their charges are withdrawn, denying them bail can be tantamount to punishing the innocent.

Something else in which Ford takes great pride is the way he relates to racialized groups. If so, he ought to consider recent statistics showing that Black people spend considerably more time behind bars for weapons offences and serious violent crimes than do white inmates. Black and Indigenous defendants are also grossly and unfairly overrepresented in the justice system.

The real solutions to gun crime involve investing in community organizations and resources that help ensure people will not turn to guns in the first place. These measures lack the superficial, tabloid appeal of deputizing ‘SWAT teams’ to crack down on bail, but Band-Aid solutions have gotten us nowhere. Gun crime will only recede once youths have a stake in their lives and their community; when education, recreation and employment replace idleness, alienation and gang identification.

Those who advance these alternatives are not soft on crime. They are not academic eggheads or wealthy elites who are out of step with street realities. They are people in communities, agencies and courthouses who see the problem of gun violence every day. If Ford does not heed their warnings, his gut instincts are going to lead us into untold expense and futility.

Daniel Brown is a criminal defence lawyer and a Toronto director with the Criminal Lawyers’ Association. Follow him on Twitter: @danielbrownlawMichael Lacy is criminal defence lawyer in Toronto and the president of the Criminal Lawyers’ Association. Follow him on Twitter: @crimlacy

https://www.thestar.com/opinion/contributors/2018/08/13/fords-aim-way-off-on-gun-crime-strategy.html

Tags: , , , ,

This entry was posted on Tuesday, August 14th, 2018 at 9:30 am and is filed under Child & Family Policy Context. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Leave a Reply