The Trudeau government should not delay on sentencing reforms

Posted on August 22, 2017 in Child & Family Policy Context – Opinion/Editorials – Ottawa’s public consultation on criminal-sentencing reforms mustn’t contribute to further delay – or worse still, be used as a justification for doing the minimum.
Aug. 21, 2017.   By

As the Trudeau government launches its public survey on criminal-sentencing laws, it is worth considering what role such an exercise might usefully play in a prospective and overdue overhaul of Ottawa’s approach to crime.

Its ongoing consultations could, we say hopefully, help the government determine the best way to communicate to the public why it has chosen to act on the evidence and roll back a decade of punitive, costly and ineffective justice policies. It could inform the government about public fears and help it navigate and assuage them as it does the right thing.

What public-opinion testing mustn’t do, however, is contribute to further delay of this crucial project – or worse still, be used as a justification for doing the minimum. Despite the inevitable political temptation to duck this fraught issue, the government cannot afford to keep waiting or certainly not to act at all.

The Harper government’s crackdown on crime, even as crime continued its steady, decades-long decline, drove up the cost of the criminal justice system by billions of dollars and increased the federal prison population by 25 per cent.

The Conservatives introduced an average of one tough-on-crime measure every month and a half in office. They brought in mandatory minimum sentences for dozens of offences, stripping away judicial discretion and shunning alternatives to prosecution. They ended house arrest and accelerated-parole for non-violent offenders and made criminal pardons harder to obtain.

These policies continue to bring more people than ever in conflict with the law and make it more difficult for those caught up in the system to get out. They have clogged our prisons, drained the public coffers, unnecessarily criminalized minor offenders and contributed to a national crisis of court delays that profoundly undermines both justice and public safety.

No amount of public consultation will do anything to change the overwhelming evidence that more humane approaches to justice are not only fairer, but also more effective and less expensive.

To its credit, the Trudeau government, which came to power on the promise of an evidence-based approach to policymaking, has not fed fear of imagined crime as its predecessor did. Yet nearly two years into its mandate, it has done very little to undo Harper’s evidence-blind policies. It has instead left this to the courts, which have again and again overturned mandatory minimum sentence laws and other features of Harper’s tough-on-crime agenda.

When Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould announced in May that the government was set to begin working on sentencing reform, it seemed to be a welcome acknowledgement that this legislative problem requires a legislative solution.

Yet, for some advocates, the launch of a public survey this past week is cause for concern. Toppling laws born of fear is always politically difficult. And as the Star has argued before, too often with this government delays in the name of democratic engagement seem to serve as a smokescreen to avoid tough decisions.

Moreover, studies have shown that tough-on-crime policies, such as those introduced in Canada over the last decade, actually feed a climate of fear. People tend to think that if governments are ramping up efforts to fight crime, crime must be rampant. As Michael Spratt, a criminal defence lawyer, told The Canadian Press last week, “Governing your justice policy based on the popular opinion is a dangerous game.”

The evidence is clear. The judicial trend is clear. And the government’s promise to pursue both public safety and justice is clear. The public survey should inform how the government sells its policy, not determine or unduly delay that policy. It is past time to undo the Harper government’s punitive legacy and start working toward a smarter, fairer and safer approach to crime.

Tags: , , ,

This entry was posted on Tuesday, August 22nd, 2017 at 10:15 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 skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Leave a Reply