Pubdate: Mon, 22 Aug 2011
Source: Winnipeg Free Press (CN MB)
Copyright: 2011 Winnipeg Free Press


Canada's association of lawyers is justifiably worried about the
effect new sentencing laws will have on aboriginal offenders. The
mandatory minimums for some offences in the federal government's
proposed omnibus crime bill run contrary to the philosophy that
reasonable, alternative measures to jail ought to be canvassed where
appropriate. And with disproportionately more aboriginal people
charged with crimes, they are likely to feel the effect

If Canada's jails begin filling up because the Harper Tories aim to
throw more people found guilty of selling marijuana in the slammer --
one target of mandatory minimums -- they are bound to house more
aboriginal people, particularly on the Prairies where native
populations are higher.

The Conservatives have long felt Canada's Criminal Code, in particular
its sentencing principles that have steered courts into an ethos of
rehabilitation, has coddled crooks. The bill, which the Harper
government has promised to pass in its first 100 days, cracks down on
specific crimes and offenders the Tories believe jeopardize public

Judges are required, particularly for aboriginal people, to look at
alternatives to sentencing -- but both the Supreme Court of Canada's
Gladue decision, which spoke of systemic factors to consider for
native people, and the Criminal Code explicitly say alternative
sanctions are to be considered where reasonable. Judges, in other
words, have greater flexibility to fit the penalty to the crime and
criminal. The Supreme Court also said the more violent the crime, the
less likely sentences for aboriginal and non-aboriginals would differ.

The Tories are also targeting the Youth Criminal Justice Act, which
now ties the hands of judges as it aims to keep young offenders out of
jail, except in the most serious violent crimes. There is cause to add
denunciation and deterrence to the act's sentencing principles but not
as primary goals. This would give judges more discretion in sentencing
and preserve the rationale of the Gladue decision.

Mandatory minimum jail sentences do the opposite, and they should be
prescribed sparingly, targeting offences for which the public would
reserve special condemnation.

The omnibus bill appears poised to catch up petty weed dealers in its
clutches and that deserves a serious re-think by the federal Tories.
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MAP posted-by: Matt