Prime Time Crime

(Prime Time Crime exclusive Sept. 26, 2011)

Mandatory Minimums

By Bob Cooper


In a previous column, Not even close, I issued the following caution: 

“When the patience of the public finally runs out and mandatory minimums become the norm rather than the exception, the judges will have only themselves to blame. They have taken the commodity of discretion they consider so precious and squandered it."

Looks like that day has arrived with the introduction of the omnibus crime bill in the House of Commons which, among other things like eliminating House Arrest for certain crimes and tightening up on Pardons, provides for minimum sentences for certain drug offences.  I’d say more emphasis is needed on violent crime but it’s a start.

The Canadian Bar Association reacted predictably.  Having their clients in jail for longer periods deprives them of income.

The CBA was followed quickly by the Empty the Prisons crowd, John Howard, Elizabeth Fry, etc.  Ian Mulgrew of the Vancouver Sun claims that the cost of incarcerating people is what has put California into bankruptcy.  While I’ll grant that it costs money to run prisons, my fellow Californians would be glad to set Ian straight on that one and point out that what’s really put the Golden State in the red is the horrendous cost of maintaining millions of ‘undocumented guests’ from South of the Rio Grande.  Their presence sucks millions of dollars from the California treasury every day to pay for welfare, hospital care, schools, police, courts, and other services that these people use, or cause their victims to use, all the while not paying a dime in taxes.  Ian is probably unaware of this because it’s never mentioned in polite company for fear of offending them.

As far as prisons go, California gets its money’s worth.   You won’t find anyone in San Quentin, Folsom, or Pelican Bay that doesn’t richly deserve to be there.  As much as Ian and his friends defend these people they’d be terrified if they moved in next door.  Some years ago, I was talking to an SFPD Homicide Inspector and, as usual, we asked each other what our numbers (of murders) were.  When he told me his, I remarked that it seemed quite low as opposed to past years and he replied that it was totally due to the Three Strikes Law that was causing felons to flee the state like lemmings.

Then came this beauty from (where else) the Vancouver Provincial Courts in which Judge Frances Howard sentenced a drug dealing savage to 2 years for slashing a man’s throat from ear to ear when the victim asked him to stop bothering two women.  In addition to endangering us all, Judge Howard handed the government complete validation for their position on the need for minimum sentences on a silver platter;   Man gets 2-year sentence for throat slashing.  "I was extremely disappointed," Lee Reynolds said afterwards. "It appears the justice system in Canada favours criminals and not victims and their families. There really needs to be an overhaul."  He is hoping the Crown appeals the sentence.

Welcome to Vancouver, Mr. Reynolds.  I’m hoping the Crown appeals too but I won’t be holding my breath.  They share some of the blame for taking a plea on this one in the first place.

The ordinary reader might wonder where the outrage is.  Even  Christopher Hurtado’s own lawyer said he deserved 5 years.  Sadly, this is so normal in the courts here that it went almost totally ignored by the news media which is supposed to be our last line of defence.  Kudos to crime reporter Kim Bolan of the Vancouver Sun for being the only one to bother.  Even then, the story ended up on Page 6 when it should be on the front page under 3 inch headlines.

In the wake of sentences like this one I often hear people suggesting that judges be elected.  While it sounds like a good idea on its face, it would involve the same group of voters that elected Gregor Robertson and Vision Vancouver.  I’ll pass on that, just some more mandatory minimums please.

Bob Cooper is a retired Vancouver policeman.  He walked a beat in Chinatown and later worked in the Asian Organized Crime Section and the Homicide Squad.



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