(This column was published in the North Shore News on July 31, 2002)

 

Repeat offenders need consequences

 By Leo Knight

CHARLOTTETOWN - Touring around the Maritimes is an education in itself.

 

Not the least of that knowledge comes from reading the morning local papers and getting a feel for the crime rate, or lack thereof might be somewhat more apropos.

 

Statistics Canada, in its most recent report, told us the crime rate nationally had risen this past year halting an almost decade long decrease. Well, a claimed decrease at any rate.

 

I have been dubious of those claims for a long time. It's a crapshoot these days to park your car. What are the chances you'll return and find it just as you left it? Fifty-fifty? Less?

 

A great many people have simply stopped reporting property crimes to police. This resignation to the crime around us is what has been pushing those numbers down. As well as police methods of filing and tracking their numbers. What used to stand on its own as an event, may now be "batch-filed" so commonplace have they become.

 

However, the Statistics Canada numbers are now up, driven, we are told, by the rise in property crime such as theft from auto and theft of auto.

 

How big a rise? Consider in 1995 there were approximately 5,000 auto thefts in Vancouver. Last year, that number had more than tripled. Add in the figures from the rest of the Lower Mainland communities and the mind boggles. I have heard that in British Columbia, a car is stolen every six minutes. Never mind the run-of-the-mill murder and mayhem in our little corner of the country, but here, on the other side of our vast land, crime is an entirely different matter.

 

I have spent several days on fair Prince Edward Island searching for the ultimate golfing experience. In doing so, I couldn't help notice the stories in the local paper, The Guardian, which covers the entire province, not just the two primary urban areas.

 

Here, if one gets a little tipsy and perhaps gets into a session with the local Mounties, that individual is going to jail. One guy, on his third conviction for impaired driving, with no associated accident, got 26 months in jail.

 

It's pretty hard to imagine what you might have to do to be at the receiving end of a 26-month sentence in the Lower Mainland. Manslaughter? Criminal negligence causing death rarely gets much more than a suspended sentence.

 

The persons responsible for all those vehicle break-ins and thefts are the same guys who break into your home. Time and time again. They have been through the revolving doors of justice so many times, they barely notice yet another charge.

 

Southam columnist Barbara Yaffe wrote on this subject last week. She told of four individuals each with a history of hundreds of charges and more than 70 convictions for a variety of Criminal Code offences.

 

This is, of course, a ridiculous situation. Read "A Day in Court" elsewhere in these pages and you will understand. The same names over and over. The same types of offences over and over. The same sentences over and over. Rarely will the word "jail" ever be mentioned.

 

The recidivism of criminals in British Columbia over the age of 16 is astronomical. Simply put, the people committing these crimes see no hard consequences for their actions. It's no more complicated than teaching your child not to hit a sibling or teaching a puppy not to soil the living room rug.

 

Good actions get good consequences. Bad actions get bad consequences. So simple yet for some reason the justice system, as it is practiced in British Columbia, has not learned that basic lesson.

 

In Prince Edward Island,. even the least serious criminal offences get punished by a significant penalty that often includes some time in jail. Not to mention the public scorn from having your case described in detail in the newspaper.

 

British Columbia is different. Even in North Vancouver, we breed whole families for whom crime is a way of life. The police do their bit and get them in front of the courts, but ultimately no significant consequence is ever meted out. Typically they receive a conditional sentence. Or they get "grounded," placed under a curfew and given a "no go." Or they get a fine, which they won't pay, and there is no mechanism to force the issue. Then, of course, they also get the ubiquitous probation period. Which they will breach and get a little more probation. And then probation on top of probation. Then probation on top of that. This is not the judges' fault either in most cases. They have no sense that any sentence handed out will in fact be carried out by the system.

 

The only way to fix this and get a handle on the skyrocketing crime rates is to stop the repeat offenders. The only way to do that is to teach them that society will exact a significant consequence.For that to occur, there must be the political will to change. In Prince Edward Island, if someone steals a car, they go to jail.

 

In Vancouver, they look around for cops to taunt into chasing them.

 

Surely the message is simple to understand.

 

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