Our justice system is meant to be a principled and morally upstanding approach to crimes committed against our fellow human beings. Being tough-on-crime isn’t just a game of political pandering, and criminal justice isn’t a game of bureaucratic tinkering to reduce costs.
The media, the Liberals, and the NDP have not been kind to the government’s tough-on-crime policies. The Toronto Star editorial board referred to the entire affair as “conduct-no-research” policy making. Several members of the Canadian Bar Association recently grilled Justice Minister Rob Nicholson on the topic, and Liberal MP Geoff Regan had the gall to suggest in Parliament that, “When we hear the Conservatives talk about young people, most of the time it is about putting them in jail.”
This unprincipled approach to the debate from the opposition is shocking. They make technical arguments about the increased cost of prisons or supposedly declining crime rates. In reality, crime in Canada skyrocketed between 1962-when crime statistics began to be compiled-and the 1990s. Only since then has crime begun to see a modest decline, but one that still brings it nowhere near historical lows.
The real argument for tough-on-crime is one of principle: victims deserve real justice and Canadians deserve a justice system that harshly punishes our country’s most terrible crimes.
An unnamed man in Calgary was sentenced on September 2 for rape and sexual abuse. He abused his victim horribly for two and a half years while she was between the ages of 3 and 5, while he was between the ages of 14 and 17. Under the federal Youth Criminal Justice Act, what was his sentence? 100 days in custody, 50 days of supervision, and a 19-month probation. An innocent human being has her life scarred, and the criminal walks away with a slap on the wrists. How can we call this a moral approach?
In another recent case from Calgary, Paul Villecourt was sentenced to 12 months in jail for accessing child pornography online. Considering the serious and pervasive problem posed by that industry, I find this punishment light. New legislation in Parliament now demands that Internet providers reveal the identities of those who publish such images online, making it much easier to stop these crimes.
Political parties happily banded together on the issue of crime when the media discovered that Karla Homolka was approaching eligibility for pardon. Terrifyingly, the National Parole Board had little power to reject applications for pardon before the passage of a new portion of Bill C-23. Only around 1 per cent of applications were rejected. C-23 expands the power of the NPB to reject parole claims. In the case of those who have committed three serious offenses, it makes them ineligible.
It is cases like these that make tough-on-crime such a morally defensible platform. Canadians deserve a justice system that emphasizes fair punishment for criminals and peace for victims. What we don’t deserve is a system that projects the signal to offenders: do what you want, because we can’t stop you.
Ottawa has now allocated $105 million to build three new prisons in order to accommodate the estimated 2,700 new inmates these new measures will produce. It’s worth every penny. Now 2,700 people who would have previously escaped the system can be kept away from Canadian streets and the people whose lives they’ve ruined.