Pubdate: Mon, 26 Sep 2011
Source: Winnipeg Free Press (CN MB)
Copyright: 2011 Winnipeg Free Press
Author: Ethan Baron, Columnist


Prime Minister Stephen Harper is getting tougher on pot growers than
he is on rapists of children. Under the Tories' omnibus crime
legislation tabled Tuesday, a person growing 201 pot plants in a
rental unit would receive a longer mandatory sentence than someone who
rapes a toddler or forces a five-year-old to have sex with an animal.

Producing six to 200 pot plants nets an automatic six-month sentence,
with an extra three months if it's done in a rental or is deemed a
public-safety hazard. Growing 201 to 500 plants brings a one-year
sentence, or 11/2 years if it's in a rental or poses a safety risk.

The omnibus legislation imposes one-year mandatory minimums for
sexually assaulting a child, luring a child via the Internet or
involving a child in bestiality.

All three of these offences carry lighter automatic sentences than
those for people running medium-sized grow-ops in rental property or
on someone else's land.

A pedophile who gets a child to watch pornography with him, or a
pervert exposing himself to kids at a playground, would receive a
minimum 90-day sentence, half the term of a man convicted of growing
six pot plants in his own home.

The maximum sentence for growing marijuana would double from seven to
14 years, the same maximum applied to someone using a weapon during a
child rape, and four years more than for someone sexually assaulting a
kid without using a weapon.

Here in B.C., if police and prosecutors don't rebel against the new
laws, we're going to be hit with massive jail costs, says Simon Fraser
University criminologist Neil Boyd.

The new marijuana legislation will increase the proportion of pot
criminals in B.C. jails from less than five per cent to around 30 per
cent, at a cost of about $65,000 per inmate annually, Boyd says.

"Why put people who are not violent in jail?" Boyd asks. "People who
commit serious violent crime are already dealt with pretty harshly,
and crime rates are down, not up."

Harper's U.S.-style war on drugs ignores our southern neighbour's
expensive failed effort.

"Eight states -- including New York, where laws were the most punitive
in the nation -- have repealed most of these mandatory-minimum
sentences, and dozens of other jurisdictions are considering repeal or
reform," a February report from Human Rights Watch says.

Even the government's own Justice Department questions the use of
mandatory minimums.

"There is some indication that minimum sentences are not an effective
sentencing tool," reads a 2010 report from the department. "They
constrain judicial discretion without offering any increased
crime-prevention benefits."

Provincial jails -- where most people convicted under the new laws
will end up -- provide far fewer rehabilitation programs than federal
prisons, leading to higher rates of reoffending, says Stacey Hannem,
chairman of the policy review committee at the Canadian Criminal
Justice Association.

"There's a real revolving-door problem in our provincial
institutions," Hannem says. "If you're going to throw even more people
in there, you can bet that the recidivism rate in the provincial
system is likely to go up.

"If you want to get tough on crime, that's fine. But don't sell it as
increasing public safety. That's just not true."
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MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.