Sunday, June 29, 2014

Contempt And Criminal Justice


Eddie Greenspon and Anthony Doob write that Stephen Harper's contempt for all things institutional makes him a poor lawmaker:

Stephen Harper’s high-handed personal attack on the chief justice of Canada is part of a pattern of contempt for legal institutions and the law itself. Harper’s so-called “defeats” at the Supreme Court of Canada illustrate his disrespect for principles of fairness and his complete lack of interest in attempting to create coherent, sensible laws.

And the result is that he leaves legal chaos in his wake:

Harper’s approach to criminal law reform is best described as a confused mess. In one of his early bills, he raised the mandatory minimum sentence for carrying out violent crimes like robbery with a handgun from four years to five years (though for inexplicable reasons, the four-year mandatory minimum for robberies with shotguns or high-powered rifles was left unchanged). Does he really think that there are people who would be deterred by a five-year mandatory minimum sentence, but would not be deterred by four years? Is using a shotgun in a robbery really less serious than using a handgun?

More recently, the government introduced a new law dealing with harming police dogs and horses. If passed, the sentence for injuring a police dog will automatically be consecutive to other charges arising out of the same incident (e.g., resisting arrest), but if there is no dog or horse and two police officers are assaulted, the sentences need not be consecutive.

When it comes to criminal justice, one law impacts another law. That means that legislation requires an integrative approach, not legal cherry picking. There used to be a time when governments of all stripes understood this principle:

The criminal justice system needs thoughtful comprehensive legislation dealing in an integrated manner with difficult issues. In the past, governments — Conservative and Liberal — did this. In 2003, Canada’s Youth Criminal Justice Act replaced the discredited Young Offenders Act. Criticism of youth justice laws virtually disappeared. In 1992, a Conservative majority government passed comprehensive legislation dealing with penitentiaries, parole and other forms of release from prison. A major integration of Canada’s drug laws was introduced by the Liberals a few years later.

But the Harper government operates on the simple formula that if you want to decrease crime, you must increase punishment. This principle applies even if crime is at an all time low. Harper and Co. are simply vindictive -- towards opponents, towards anyone they see as a potential enemy.

And that's why, when it comes to crafting legislation, they are incompetent.


Toby said...

Owen wrote, "But the Harper government operates on the simple formula that if you want to decrease crime, you must increase punishment."

That attitude is very popular. Network media, such as Global TV news, does its best to fan the flames of punishment at every opportunity. No amount of evidence to the contrary changes the demand for harsh punishment, including the death penalty. Harper may believe it but he is also playing to applause.

Owen Gray said...

Regardless of the issue, Toby, for Harper it's all about buying votes.

Anonymous said...

I think Harper was confident, he had the Supreme Court in his pocket. They had better watch their backs. Harper is extremely vindictive to those who oppose him. Harper does not govern, he dictates.

As with other dictators, Harper is paranoid about his safety. Rumor has it, Harper's security bill has doubled. Dictators are also very poor of character. Expect the worst from Harper, not the best.

Wonder what sentence Harper would pass, for traitor's and acts of treason?

Owen Gray said...

The good news is that once the judges are on the court, Anon, Harper cannot touch them.

And they've made it clear that they are not Harper's patsies.

Mark said...

Harper saw this video:

... and didn't realize it's satire.

Owen Gray said...

Thanks for the clip, Mark. I notice the tagline at the end mentions "reason" and "compassion." -- two words that are missing from Mr. Harper's vocabulary.