column was published in the
Feb. 10, 1999)
Deterrence missing in justice system
By Leo Knight
the number of home invasion victims rising faster than the
provincial deficit, the premier and the attorney general held a
high-level meeting with the three most senior police officers in
Following the meeting, there was a photo-op with the media and a less than encouraging statement. They had a full and frank discussion, we were told. Unfortunately, there are no easy solutions, but it is a top priority of this government, apparently. We can expect an announcement within two weeks, said the premier.
week, with the two major television news outlets hitting the
home invasion drum every night on the 6 o'clock news, the AG,
Ujjal Dosanjh, was quoted in The Province as saying he is
determined to end the rash of home invasions.
talked about spending more money to educate the public in
protecting themselves as though somehow it's their fault if two
thugs high on testosterone and crack and low on brains bash
their way into their homes.
yeah, he said he's going to lobby the federal government to
change some of the legislation. "I think we do need some
creative solutions ... some tougher penalties," said
this sounds vaguely familiar, it should. In May of 1997, almost
two years ago, following the deaths of two elderly women, the
same AG announced a commitment of $150,000 for a police home
invasion task force. He talked about doing the same things he is
talking about now.
premier followed up last week's statements by Dosanjh with a
volley or two of his own. He was also quoted in The Province
as saying, "The attorney-general and I believe this is the
No. 1 law enforcement issue on the minds of Lower Mainland
residents right now."
important, according to Clark, the government is going to spend
money educating the public, give some money to the police and
lobby the federal government for some legislative changes.
said, "Simply put, we need tougher enforcement, tougher
think a pattern is developing. In 1996, when making another one
of those "significant" announcements on how tough the
NDP government is on crime, Clark said, "This province has
led the country in urging Ottawa to protect the public from
dangerous, repeat offenders."
the pols waffle, wringing their hands in worry, a judge in
Williams Lake fired a broadside of his own. This one directly at
Dosanjh and Clark. According to a 10-page written judgment,
provincial court Judge Jakob de Villiers said the NDP government
is "mollycoddling criminals and undermining judges'
Villiers said the AG refuses to monitor those given conditional
sentences. According to the judge the ministry releases people
from jail despite the specific wish of the court that the
individual is put in custody and if fines are imposed, the
ministry refuses to launch proceedings which could lead to jail
time for people who refuse to pay their fines.
the decision the judge wrote, "it is improbable that they
(criminals) will have to serve any sentence of imprisonment or
be forced to pay any fine the courts impose."
phenomena was explained to me over lunch with a provincial court
judge who is mired in the same frustration.
said, "In all but extreme cases I'm very limited in what I
can give the accused nothing. Or I could give him nothing. Or in
the more serious cases, I can give him nothing."
the less serious cases, normally dealt with by way of a fine, it
used to be the fine was given as a penalty and if the fine
wasn't paid in a prescribed period of time, the offender was
brought back before the sentencing judge and a term of
imprisonment was imposed. This was called "default
the judges no longer deal out default time. The court registry
clerks supposedly do. But the problem is that when the fine is
defaulted on, as it seems to be in most cases, no further action
is ever taken. In other words, the offender gets nothing for a
the judge decides to impose a conditional sentence or electronic
monitoring, the ministry doesn't do the requisite follow-up to
ensure the conditions imposed by the court are followed up. The
offender gets nothing.
the more serious cases, the court may impose a jail sentence of
less than two years (provincial time). The ministry officials
then classify the offender and in most cases release them from
custody on things like electronic monitoring despite the fact
the judge deemed the individual should be in jail. Again, the
offender gets nothing.
back through the press release files illustrates just how
ineffectual this government and this attorney general has been
in fixing a justice system in disarray.
Oct. 30, 1997, April 21, 1998, Oct. 21, 1998 and finally on Dec.
17, 1998, Dosanjh made major announcements concerning how his
ministry would deal with the backlog in our courts.
problem is now worse than ever. In fact on the same day as the
latest Clark/Dosanjh bit of drivel, the Crown prosecutors
announced a withdrawal of services citing the backlog in the
courts and the resulting high workloads as the primary reason.
home invasion problem is not particularly difficult. Leave the
police alone to deal with their end of things. They will
apprehend those responsible. That's a fact.
I don't want to hear any more platitudes from a couple of
politicians trying to align themselves on the popular side of an
existing law for breaking into a residence carries a maximum
penalty of life imprisonment. The existing law for using a
weapon in the commission of an offence is "not less than
four years" in jail.
laws currently are more than sufficient to deal with the crime.
We don't need to lobby the federal government for new laws when
the current ones are not being appropriately enforced. The
problem comes with a system that will not provide a deterrence
or suitable punishment for those who continually commit the
the talk is easy for Clark and Dosanjh. Walking the walk has
proven to be much more difficult.