HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html When Menard Speaks, Colleagues Listen
Pubdate: Mon, 10 Dec 2007
Source: Law Times (Canada)
Copyright: CLB Media 2007
Author: Richard Cleroux


It's Been A Long Climb Up The Legal Ladder For MP Serge Menard.

He's done it all - provincial Crown in Montreal, federal Crown, 
defense lawyer, president of l'Association des avocats de la defense, 
then Batonnier of the Quebec Bar, and finally ends up Quebec justice 
minister, taking on the Hells Angels and beating them into submission.

Today Menard is a Bloc Quebecois MP in Ottawa, the party's public 
safety critic, and a recognized expert on criminal law. When he 
speaks, colleagues listen.

The other day in the Commons, Menard went after the controversial 
mandatory minimum penalties in bill C-2, the Conservatives' crime legislation.

Conservatives believe stiffer minimums and less leeway for judges in 
sentencing means a better, safer society. Menard says tying the hands 
of judges is not the answer.

Nor are "bogus solutions" from "south of the border. "I would not 
want this country to follow in its neighbor's footsteps only to end 
up with the same results," he says.

The U.S. option for more jail has led to more crime. The U.S. has 
seven times Canada's incarceration rate. It has three times more 
homicides per capita, and five times more spouses killed per capita. 
If more jail were the answer, the U.S. would be like heaven.

American politicians keep cranking up mandatory minimums and filling 
their jails as their crime rate keeps going up. Jail more people; 
build more jails. More than two million Americans are in jail right 
now. (That's like the population of Manitoba and Saskatchewan 
combined - all sitting in jail.)

Young black American males today have a better chance of ending up in 
jail than attending university.

The Conservatives' wish for more jail (a $245-million bill for 
another jail came in last week) has to do, Menard says, with 
manipulating perceptions.

The Conservative plan is to position the debate on crime heading into 
the next general election to make Conservatives appear tough on crime 
and the Opposition as soft on crime.

Menard notes Harper aborted the last session and re-introduced his 
crime bills this fall to re-start the crime debate in the lead up to 
the next election.

Menard says he's watched the Conservatives MPs. When they talk about 
crime, they only cite the worst cases and the worst criminals. They 
don't talk about the vast majority of cases filled with all sorts of 
mitigating circumstances.

One size does not fit all, and should not either when it comes to 
sentencing, Menard says. That's why judges must not have their hands 
tied. The punishment must fit the crime, not the legislation of 
electoralist politicians.

Menard hauls out an anecdote. He says when he began as a Crown in 
1966, the mandatory minimum for importing marijuana was seven years. 
It came as a shock to him.

"It was one of the harshest penalties in the Criminal Code," he says.

Did it lower marijuana use, he asks? No, not at all, he answers. 
Marijuana use just kept going up and up all through the 1980s.

Ironically, the new Harper legislation would raise the current 
seven-year minimum for growing marijuana to 14 years - double the 
jail time. It would make growing weed worse than second-degree murder 
in Harper's Canada.

Weed worse than Murder II.

Menard has a "success" story to cheer up the House.

He remembers impaired driving. It used to be a major problem, 
especially among young people. But instead of raising minimum 
sentences for impaired driving, the politicians put their money into 
awareness campaigns for drivers. It worked. There was a massive 
decrease in impaired driving. People took it seriously.

When police began spot checks on highways, they used to stop up to 10 
per cent of drivers. Today they sometimes haul in less than one per 
cent. Some police no longer bother setting up spot-check operations.

Menard says even his own kids, when they go out, have a designated 
driver. These are habits learned without fear of a longer prison term.

"Does anyone really believe that criminals think about the length of 
sentence they could serve if caught?" he asks. "It's fear of being 
caught they worry about, not the length of sentence. If they believe 
they will be caught, they change their behavior."

Crime prevention is important too.

"When I began practising law," he says, "Montreal was the armed 
robbery capital of Canada." Today, no one can remember the last bank 
robbery in Montreal.

It wasn't longer sentences that did it; it was intelligent preventive 
measures. Banks are built differently. They have cameras, better 
alarms, special cash drawers, money packs, and exploding dye.

"The risk of being caught in relation to profits is not worth it 
anymore," says Menard.

His best example is the death penalty, he says, abolished 25 years 
ago. The number of murders has declined ever since.

We should be up to our ears in murders today if execution had been a deterrent.

Menard says handing down mandatory minimums forces a judge who has 
gone over a case and weighed all the factors - individual and general 
deterrents, seriousness of the crime, circumstances surrounding the 
crime, background, recidivism, home life, outside influences, and 
dozens of other factors - to end up sentencing someone to three years 
who should be getting 18 months. That's no way to do law.

Some days it's worth sitting in the Commons gallery listening to MPs 
who have something intelligent to say.

Richard Cleroux is a freelance reporter and columnist on Parliament Hill.
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