James Forcillo, the officer who shot Sammy Yatim, the teenager who was alone on a streetcar while holding a knife, was charged with murder. He was taken into custody and released on bail on the same day. Would other offenders be treated this way? Read my August, 2013, Huffington Post article on this issue here: James Forcillo’s Bail Proves a Double Standard.
To read my blog for the Huffington Post on, “Will We Ever Learn the Whole Truth About Sammy Yatim?” click here.
It has sadly become a familiar chain of events:
Officers charge civilian with assaulting a police officer.
Video (either surveillance, or taped by a civilian) surfaces: it shows the officers beating up the same person whom they have charged. That person is helpless and under police control; he or she is neither resisting nor assaulting the police.
The civilian, accused of assaulting the police, is dragged through the court system for months. Because of the video footage, the charges against the civilian are often withdrawn by the Crown Attorney. Occasionally, some of these officers are charged or disciplined. But the videos, the public outcries, the disciplinary measures or the criminal charges against the officers do not seem to serve as a deterrent to police officers prone to abusing their powers.
And the events are repeated.
Both of these videos come on the heels of the 10-year anniversary of the Said Jama Jama case, one of the first Canadian cases that I can recall where the police were surreptitiously recorded by a civilian holding a small camera. Jama Jama, a young Toronto man, was charged with assaulting a police officer and causing a disturbance. The officer said that Jama Jama had assaulted him, and that Jama’s own injuries were caused from his involvement in an earlier fight. Jama denied these allegations, and claimed that the officer had punched him in the face. The tourist who had video-taped the interactions provided the tape to the defence. And that video-tape clearly showed an officer punching Jama Jama in the face, while the young man was standing, arms down, not resisting and not fighting the police. Significantly, but not unusually, the police had denied punching the young man until the video surfaced.
The video led to the withdrawal of charges against Jama Jama. The lying officer was charged, and later convicted of assaulting him.
Since the Jama Jama case, there have been numerous incidents were the police have been caught on video in their lies and in their abuse of civilians. Some of the more publicized cases include: the beating of Stacey Bond in a police station by the Ottawa police; the multitude of recorded assaults and abuses of power by the Toronto police during the G20 in 2010; the Taser-related death of Robert Dziekanski, a confused, helpless, frightened man in the Vancouver airport; the severe beating of an Edmonton man who was under police control; the unjustified pepper spraying of protestors by a Montreal police officer; and a Vancouver officer who kicked a high, helpless, half-dressed man several times.
These cases prove two realities: First, that the proliferation of cellphone cameras is increasingly catching those meant to serve and protect us in acts of violence and brutality against us. Second, catching the police red-handed has not stopped police abuse of power.
Videos, law suits, inquests, inquiries and public outcries — none of these seem to have shaken the intractable police conviction that some civilians deserve to be beaten by the police, and that the police can act with impunity.
The blue code of silence remains impermeable. It seems that officers remain reluctant to report abuses of power by their colleagues, fearing retaliation or repercussions.
Police departments and chiefs appear to treat the videos as just another public relations challenge.
But the immeasurable negative impact of the police conduct persists: The public’s faith and trust in the police is undermined, the injured citizen suffers mental, emotional, and physical harm, and his or her family bear the long-term negative consequences. And the public foots much of the bill for the lengthy and costly judicial process, including the cost of the officer’s defence.
So what should citizens and ethically conscious police officers do? Simply shrug and accept that with power, comes abuse of power? Should we resign ourselves to the bleak conclusion that a certain percentage of the police force will always act criminally, themselves, and that the rest will remain silent?
Police culture CAN change. It is not intractable. But it will only change through the political power of engaged citizens.
We must be vigilant in ensuring that our voices, concerns and solutions are both heard and implemented — by police services boards, police chiefs, and politicians. We must demand that our political representatives take leadership and have the courage to address the problem of police abuse of power.
It is paramount that police education includes extensive training and focus on the de-escalation of conflict through peaceful, rather than violent means. Policing students must learn and internalize non-aggressive conflict resolution skills. Officers must be reminded over and over that their position of power, and their involvement in risky situations, does not grant them permission to abuse civilians, regardless of what such civilians are alleged to have committed. Police education and training and police leaders must repeatedly underscore the notion that the police are there to rationally and neutrally investigate and make arrests when legally justified, not to pass judgment or exact justice.
Respect for all human beings must be a prerequisite to becoming an officer, just as much as physical fitness and the ability to make quick decisions are requirements.
In addition, police officers must be genuinely encouraged, supported and permitted to report other officers who abuse their power.
Officers must have regular training and support in dealing with stress, so that the pressures of their jobs and their personal lives do not translate into aggression against those who question their authority.
The proliferation of these videos can lead to positive developments in the way we police. But that positive change will only come if citizens continue to demand that our police services and our politicians take ownership of the problem and show leadership in its resolution.
The Harper Government: Making Our Streets and Communities Less Safe, Pounding the Vulnerable, and Snubbing the Supreme Court of Canada
How do you defy the highest court in the land?
If you are the Conservative federal government, you replace a simple, straight-forward law with a gargantuan one that shouts, “In your face, Supreme Court!” In other words, you turn the court’s decision on its head.
That’s what Harper’s government did last Thursday when it introduced Bill C-65. The Bill is their response to the Supreme Court’s unanimous 2011 decision which declared that the Minister of Health must grant Insite, Vancouver’s supervised drug injection facility, an exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, so that it can continue to provide health services.
Drug injection facilities are more than a place where drug addicts go to use drugs safely. The facilities promote public health by minimizing the harms associated with street-level, illicit drug use. They reduce incidences of drug overdose, the transmission of diseases through needle sharing, and the rate of serious infection. They increase public safety by reducing crime associated with drug use. The clinics, staffed by doctors, nurses, and therapists trained in dealing with addictions, also provide counselling, referral services, and immediate help to those who are ready to curb their addictions. In turn, all these benefits result in reduced societal costs associated with drug use.
But the Federal government did not like the Supreme Court’s telling it that it should continue to grant Insite the exemption it had since 2003.
To get around the judgement, the government devised Bill C-65.
Under current legislation, the Minister may exempt any person from the application of the CDSA if, in the opinion of the Minister, the exemption is necessary for a medical or scientific purpose or is otherwise in the public interest. Plain and simple. The entire section uses up 70 words.
But under Bill C-65, those 70 words are replaced with 2,627 words (not counting the preamble), most of which set up one colossal obstacle after another for any group that hopes to set up a safe injection site.
Under the Bill, applicants will be required to submit reports and letters from the provincial Minister of Health, Minister of Public Safety, the local municipality, the local police, and health professionals, as well as research, statistics, information on trends and other data, and also, significantly, reports on consultations held with a “broad range of community groups from the municipality,” including a summary of the opinions expressed, copies of all written submissions, and submissions on what applicants intend to do about those community concerns. All in all, there are 26 (or more, depending on how you count it) complex, costly, and onerous conditions that must be fulfilled before the Minister will even consider whether or not to grant an exemption.
One might argue, “What is wrong with having stringent requirements for setting up places where, after all, illicit drugs are going to be consumed?” Doesn’t that ensure that these clinics are safer?
On the face of it, the requirements do not appear unreasonable. But the Harper government is well aware of the societal benefits of these facilities. And so, it should advocate for their increased use, where justified. Instead, the government is erecting insurmountable obstacles in the way of anyone who may want to build a safe-injection site.
The truth is that Bill C-65 is not intended to ensure improved safety in the creation of safe-injection clinics. The real intention behind the Bill is to stop any such attempts dead in its tracks.
On the same day the government introduced the Bill, it also started a political public campaign to oppose the building of safe injection clinics anywhere.
Jenny Byrne, the Conservative party’s main tactician, posted a fear-mongering, misleading message on the Conservative party’s web-site. The posting, entitled, “Keep heroin out of our backyards,” both misinforms and misleads the public, and capitalizes on fears based on insufficient information. It suggests to readers that such clinics are about to be set up in every neighbourhood in the country (which is simply untrue), and aims to collect the names of those opposed to such facilities, to allow for the most efficient and effective opposition, should there be a proposal for a safe-injection facility in any municipality. The message from the posting is clear: “We are totally against such clinics, and we’ve introduced the bill to make it harder for similar facilities to be set up elsewhere in the country.”
It’s a sad but unsurprising position and tactic by the Conservative government.
Instead of leading, the Conservative government puts up roadblocks.
Instead of increasing public safety and reducing harm, the Harper government perpetuates the conditions that lead to greater harm and risk to public safety.
Instead of implementing preventative measures that will reduce public spending in the long-run, the Conservative government adopts punitive, harmful policies that will cost us more.
Instead of educating and informing the public about the truth behind addictions, harm reduction, and the benefits of such facilities, the Conservatives engage in a campaign of misinformation and fear-mongering built on simplistic one-liners.
They introduce a Bill that may make it nearly impossible to build another safe-injection site.
The government surely knows that the law may not stand Charter scrutiny. But the Conservatives don’t care about that. They will push ahead with the Bill because it makes it sound like they care about (some) Canadians.
But in doing so, the Harper government harms not only those with addictions, but all Canadians.
In the process, and as an added bonus, the Conservative government also flips its finger at the highest court in the land.
Richard Kachkar’s not criminally responsible verdict has divided observers and is fueling the debate on Bill C-54, the Bill to make NCR reviews more restrictive.
There are those who feel that the NCR decision was the right, though imperfect one.
And there are those who are angered by the verdict. They feel that justice was not done; that the jury was duped; and worst of all, that Kachkar’s life is going to be spared while that of his victim was not. To them, a finding of “not criminally responsible” is equal to a full acquittal, a get-out-of-jail free card, a verdict of no repercussions for Kachkar and his actions.
But an NCR finding is not tantamount to escaping justice. And it is not a ticket to freedom. It is the best, albeit imperfect, response that we have to people whose severe mental illness rendered them incapable of formulating the kind of intent that we believe is necessary before someone can be convicted of a criminal offence.
What does an NCR finding really mean?
In legal terms, an NCR finding means that the person who committed an act suffered from a major mental illness at the time of commission of the act, and, as a result of the illness, she or he either did not have the mental capacity to appreciate the nature and quality of the act or did not know that the act was wrong.
In layperson terms, such persons are often delusional or haunted in a manner that makes them out of touch with the reality of what they were doing or why they were doing it.
And, despite the impression that a number of highly-publicised NCR cases may leave, NCR findings are rather rare.
While many people who commit crimes often suffer from varying degrees of mental illness, most of those persons would not qualify for an NCR finding. (Neither would they want to be found NCR, given the severe consequences of such a verdict.)
Before an NCR finding is made, one or more psychiatrists meet with and assess the accused person, and examine all the information available about him from before and after the offence. The psychiatrists’ conclusions, along with any other psychiatric findings, are presented to the court. The court then decides whether or not the person was NCR: whether or not the person suffered from a mental disorder, and that disorder made him or her unable to appreciate the nature and quality of his actions or render him incapable of knowing that the act was wrong.
The consequence for the NCR person, while not as draconian as a jail term, is still severe, still restrictive, and still results in deprivation of her liberty.
In theory, a person who has been found NCR is not supposed to spend any time in jail. In reality, people who have been found NCR often do spend days, weeks, or sometimes even months in jail while awaiting a bed in one of our over-burdened mental health institutions.
After a first assessment, NCR persons often spend years in a psychiatric facility in order to get treatment. They are locked up in these so-called hospitals, until such time as a Review Board deems them safe enough for some form of a leave.
The Review Board is comprised of lawyers, judges, psychiatrists or psychologists, as well as a member of the general public. When an NCR person appears before them for a review (which is currently done on an annual basis), the Review Board examines an array of information, focusing on the treatment the person has received, their progress, their current mental health and their prognosis. The Board considers public safety when deciding whether or not to grant the person some kind of release, be it a permanent one or in the form of escorted day passes.
Review Boards do not make their decisions casually. They know the stakes. They also know that the person before them committed the acts that they did because they were sick. Once that illness is under control, the person no longer poses a risk to society.
Keep those mentally ill people who have recovered from their disease institutionalized longer, as Bill C-54 would, and you endanger their recovery, overburden our already taxed mental health institutions, and keep others who need those beds in jails rather than in hospitals.
But as Bill C-54 and the reactions to the Kachkar verdict prove, many of us continue to look at the mentally ill with suspicion. We wonder if their illness really played a role in their behaviour. Even if we believe that it did, we are doubtful that such persons can ever really be safe. And so, we believe that the NCR finding lets guilty people get away with a horrible crime. These are understandable doubts and fears, but the available facts and data should alleviate these concerns.
In reality, a person who has been found NCR is serving an indeterminate sentence: he does not know when the sentence will come to an end. He is not free to roam in public at any time; he is institutionalized and locked up. And while he may not carry with him the stigma of a criminal conviction, he will always wear the stigma of having committed a heinous act, and of having suffered from a mental illness so severe that he lost touch with reality and committed a horrendous act. His future will forever be shaped and negatively impacted by this horrible disease and event.
The tragedy of a lost life will not be avenged through the punishment of a person who did not fully and consciously intend to cause that loss. Convicting and forever locking up Kachkar and others like him will not bring healing or justice to the victims. It will only make all of us, who do have the full use of our rational faculties, responsible for convicting a person who was too ill to recognize the nature, severity, and consequence of his actions.
It feels like a week does not go by without the Harper government’s introduction of a new law or initiative purportedly aimed at making our “streets and communities safe.” Rather than make us safer, however, these crime and punishment laws are leading us toward disaster.
Criticism by the public and experts to these moralistically-named bills has been loud, clear, and supported by evidence. With a majority in Parliament, however, the Conservatives see little value in listening to the sage advice and admonishments of Canadians.
A complete list of all the bills and changes would go well into the hundreds. Instead, here is a quick reference of some of the most significant and damaging laws enacted by the Harper government:
1. The “Tackling Violent Crimes Act” sounds like a story title from a Marvel comic strip, but it’s the Haper government’s one-size fits all answer to crime: “Jail everybody. Jail them longer.”
The more prisons “solution,” is combined with the government’s utter failure to do anything constructive to address the causes of crime, or to address the fact that overcrowding in prisons and that incarceration result in much violence and increased recidivism.[i]
A portion of this legislation quickly became the subject of a Charter application in R. v. Smickle. In that case, Leroy Smickle, a young man with no criminal record, was alone one evening at his cousin’s home (he had not joined his cousin to go out as he had work the next day), in his boxers and undershirt, while holding the gun he found at the residence. He was foolishly posing with the gun for a Facebook picture in front of a computer that was on his lap, when the cops burst in, with the intention of arresting the cousin. For his foray into showing off a gun to no live persons, he faced a minimum jail sentence of 3 years, if convicted.
The trial court struck down the portion of the law that left an accused person open to this kind of harsh sentence for a first offence for an act that posed a danger to no one (but the accused).
The Crown has appealed the case. The appeal is being heard as I write this article. So the fate of the accused and the law are yet undetermined and uncertain.
What is certain to all who are familiar with the evidence, however, is this: jail sentences and higher jail sentences not only do not reduce crime and recidivism, but in some cases they actually increase the likelihood of recidivism.
Prior to the enactment of this law, sentencing judges in some jurisdictions counted an offender’s pre-trial custody time as more than 1:1. There were good reasons for this.
Conditions in pretrial detention centres are notoriously worse than those where inmates serve their sentences: overcrowding, sleeping on floors within inches of dysfunctional toilet bowls, an absence of educational or counselling programs, lengthy lock-downs which keep inmates in cells for 20-24 hours a day, unsanitary conditions that expose prisoners to disease, the legal and moral problems with incarcerating people when they have not even been found guilty, and the psychological ramification of awaiting a trial while in custody. Judges, who observed the recurrence of these harsh conditions concluded that it was necessary to count pre-trial detention as more than 1:1.
But the Conservatives contended that when courts granted someone 2 for 1 credit for pre-trial custody, they were misleading the public as to the actual sentence. They felt that they had to step in to make judges and the criminal justice system more “honest.” So the law essentially prohibits judges from counting pre-trial custody as more than 1:1 when sentencing an offender.
In passing this legislation, however, the Conservatives not only removed judicial discretion in sentencing –an act which they have repeated many times since 2010—but they also hid from the public the truth about jails, jail conditions, and the factors that judges consider when they determine the appropriate sentence for someone.
The result is greater overcrowding in our jails, unjust discrepancies in sentencing, and even less accountability for the shameful conditions in some of our jails.
The law results in greater unfairness since, because of our parole laws, persons who have spent time in pre-trial custody (often because they don’t have the resources or the community support to get bail), will end up serving a longer jail term for the same offence, when compared to those who received the exact same sentence, but had been out on bail before their trial. Most Canadians would deem this discrepancy unfair. But this is, in fact, the result of the Truth in Sentencing Act.
Then things got worse.
Soon after they gained their majority in the legislature, the Harper government rolled all their various crime bills into one giant Omnibus bill, called the “Safe Streets and Communities Act,” or Bill C-10. The many offensive portions of this bill came into force at different times during the last year.
The next 5 items are the poisonous branches of the Omnibus tree.
3. Increased sentences and mandatory minimum sentences for a range of drug offences:
The most criticized portion of this bill is that which subjects a person who grows 5 or more cannabis plants to a maximum jail sentence of 6 months or 5 years, depending on a number of legal factors.
The evidence that the war on drugs is destructive and a failure is abundant. Many people who were once advocates of the war on drugs warn that we must change how we deal with the presence of drugs in our society, and have spoken out against these futile and destructive measures. (See the Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Winner documentary film, The House I Live In by Eugene Jarecki. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a0atL1HSwi8 )
4. The removal of conditional sentences (generally known as house arrest), another Bill C-10 gem:
Until recently, conditional sentences had the support of both Liberals and Conservatives. They were seen as a cheaper, more effective method of rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders, as a means of ensuring that otherwise safe people could remain employed, remain with their families, and obtain the support that they needed, while being held accountable for their offences.
Conditional sentences recognize a few research-based realities: jails are generally ineffective tools for reducing recidivism; in some cases, jails increase the chances of recidivism; they are costly and unaffordable in society; they are oppressive; and there are better means of advancing societal goals of crime reduction than incarceration.
Judges, who were most familiar with the offender and the circumstances of the offence, could determine whether or not a conditional sentence was suitable for a particular individual.
But Bill C-10 eliminated this sensible option for many offences, including ones such as car theft or the theft of expensive items by first-time offenders.
5. No Christian forgiveness from a party with strong ties to religion:
Before March of 2012, a person who had been convicted of a crime, but had spent a designated number of years afterward as a law-abiding citizen, could apply for a “pardon.” If granted, his record would be cleared, his job prospects improved, his contribution to society could be increased.
Now, however, an eligible person can apply, not for a pardon, but for a “record suspension.” This is more than a mere matter of semantics. The label tells it all: if you have once been convicted, no matter how long ago the offence was committed, not matter how you have behaved since then, you will never be able to start over clean.
6. How else can we oppress your stay while you are incarcerated? Penalize a wider range of conduct while you are in custody.
Bill C-10 has also expanded the range of conduct that could get an inmate into trouble. One new offence: being “disrespectful toward a person in a manner that is likely to provoke them to be violent.” You know, like swearing at someone. Disciplinary offences can lead to a range of consequences, including segregation.
7. Punish our children more as well:
The crime and punishment ideology extends into the Harper government’s dealings with those who especially need our protection and guidance, young people. The law places a greater focus on punishment and incarceration in the sentencing of young offenders.
Prior to the enactment of Bill C-10, the focus of sentencing judges in youth court matters was rehabilitation and reintegration of young offenders. Judges must now, however, focus on denunciation and deterrence. The principles of denunciation and deterrence generally call for incarceration. This is a significant departure from Canadian values and government focus over the past few decades, and runs counter to all our knowledge and experience when it comes to how to best deal with young persons who come into conflict with the law.
7. Make the underlying objectives of the Youth Criminal Justice Act more punitive:
The primary principles underlying our old Y.C.J.A. were to prevent crime by addressing the circumstances underlying a young person’s offences, to rehabilitate and reintegrate them, and to subject the young persons to “meaningful consequences,” all with a view to promote the long-term protection of the public.
The new Act, however, shifts the principles behind the Act, making “protection of the public” and “accountability” the primary focus of the Act. “Protection of the public” and accountability are generally seen as cues for treatment of young persons, and requiring a greater focus on pre-trial detention.
With Bill C-10 passed and its various portions now being law, the Harper government moved on to other crime legislatin.
8. Bill C-54, the Bill that sticks it to the mentally ill:
A person who suffered from a major mental disorder at the time of the commission of their crime, in some cases, may be found to be “not criminally responsible.” Such persons are indefinitely institutionalized, until such time as a panel of experts (a Review Board) determines that these persons no longer pose a significant risk to society and that they have control over their illness.
The Harper government, however, is pushing for longer institutionalization and decreased focus on rehabilitation and reintegration. Review Boards considering whether or not an NCR person should be released are now to make public safety the “paramount concern.” Furthermore, they are no longer to impose the least onerous and restrictive conditions during a disposition hearing, but are to impose what is “necessary” and “appropriate.” The words alone are not harmful, but the message is clear: review boards should shift toward continued institutionalization and should shy away from a measured release of individuals.
The result will not only be greater overcrowding of our mental health institutions, which already lack sufficient resources and function at full capacity, but also greater imprisonment of persons with mental health disorders in our regular prisons, since there will not be sufficient room for them at our mental health institutions.
A bigger prison population. Longer terms of incarceration. Little to no investment in the kinds of social services and education that can help to reduce crime. No support for alternatives to the criminal justice system, such as restorative justice. Others have traveled this road. And they warn us about the disaster toward which we are quickly heading.
But no matter, the tough talk is still getting votes. So why let evidence and experience get in the way of ideology?
[i] “Do Sentences of Imprisonment Reduce Reoffending Rates for Either Men or Women?” Criminological Highlights, Volume 13, Number 2 (February 2013) Centre for Criminology and Social Studies, University of Toronto.
The Crown is appealing the sentences of the former Toronto police drug squad officers who were convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice and received 45 day conditional sentences (house arrest) on January 4th of this year.
If some members of the public reacted to the sentences with incredulity and reproach, it is understandable.
Incredulity because, after all, perjury and obstruction of justice convictions almost always result in a custodial sentence for most people. Why not so when police officers, whose role is to uphold the law, are the ones who intentionally mislead or lie to the court and undermine the administration of justice?
Reproach because the judge appeared to have treated the police officers more favourably than others who are convicted of the same offences. The judge’s sentence may send a message that police officers, at least when it comes to sentencing, will be given preferential treatment and will receive lighter sentences.
In fact, most cases of perjury or obstruction of justice which involve lay person accused do lead to long custodial sentences.
In R. v. Jackson, a B.C. case, the accused initially received 7 months jail for his perjury charge. The Court of Appeal increased that sentence to 30 months, and stated that perjury is to be treated seriously because of “its corrosive effect on the proper administration of justice.”
In an Alberta case involving a relatively less significant case of perjury, the accused, Spath, plead guilty and received a one year jail sentence.
In another Alberta case, R. v. Corbett, a young accused forged a letter of employment for his sentencing and was charged with perjury. His sentence on the perjury was 12 months jail.
In a 2000 Ontario Court of Appeal case, R. v. D.(C.)., the accused received a one year prison term for perjury. The court reinforced that perjury must carry a term of jail, because perjury “strikes at the heart of the administration of justice.”
In another Ontario case (R. v. Robinson), this one from 2009, a 46-year-old mother and first-time offender received 8 months for her lie to the court.
In a Newfoundland case where an accused, Kendall, lied under oath, the 42-year-old offender, who had no criminal record and whose pre-sentence report said that he was a suitable candidate for a conditional sentence, nonetheless received a 3-month jail term because the judge said that it would be contrary to the fundamental principles of sentencing to give someone a sentence other than jail for perjury.
Over and over, the courts have emphasized the importance of sending a message to the public that lying to the court is a serious offence, and that incarceration is warranted in cases of perjury in order to deter the offender and others from lying to the courts, and to denounce the act.
So why did that principle not apply to Steven Correia, Ned Maodus, John Schertzer, Raymond Pollard, and Joseph Miched?
These (mostly former) officers were convicted of perjury or obstruction of justice, but received a mere 45 day sentence, to be served in the community, which means that they will serve their time mostly at home, with certain restrictions, and a few hours a week allotted for errands.
There are, in fact, cases where a conditional sentence has been granted for perjury. But such cases are extremely rare. In the 2006 Ontario case of R. v. Graham, the accused lied at her son’s bail hearing about her address of residence to help him get bail. When the truth was quickly discovered, she was charged with perjury. No one was harmed. This mother of 6 had no criminal record, did not hold a position of trust (as police officers do), was in charge of an 8-year-old who had Downs Syndrome, and herself suffered from some physical ailments. She did receive a conditional sentence, but in order to ensure that the principle of deterrence was protected, the court gave her a 15 month conditional sentence, plus 100 hours of community service.
No short 45 day sentence for this woman.
In fact, defence council in the drug squad officers’ case provided the court with several cases where, not surprisingly, police officers had been granted non-custodial sentences for perjury or obstruction of justice.
The Crown is now asking the Court of Appeal to reconsider those 45 day conditional sentences, and to hand down tougher sentences to the officers. The question for the Court of Appeal will be whether or not the trial judge handed down inappropriate sentences.
If the court were to follow the principle of parity and stay in line with previous cases of perjury and obstruction, it would have to change the sentences to custodial ones. If it does not do so, the Court will likely try to carve out a niche for very exceptional circumstances where a conditional sentence may be granted, or will simply defer to the trial judge. Either way, if the Court of Appeal does not change the sentence to a custodial one, the message that officers can get away with lighter legal ramifications will be amplified.
In reality, the judge’s humane and considered approach to sentencing these officers is laudable. She very carefully considered the police officers’ personal histories, the traumatic impact of the charges on their lives and their families’ lives, and their emotional and psychological states.
The problem is that we don’t seem to take the same humane, empathetic approach to other offenders who are not officers.
In a more equitable world, every accused, through his or her lawyer, would have the resources, the skill, and the ability to paint a sympathetic picture of the accused’s suffering in the criminal justice system and the negative and emotional impact of the charges on his life. Every judge would be able to relate to the accused person, and, while condemning the accused’s actions, would take note of the traumatic effects of the being accused of a crime and the potentially dangerous and horrible effects of being jailed.
The result would be less jails and possibly a more effective and humane criminal justice system.
Alas, we are not ready for that.