Prime Time Crime


(Published in the Chilliwack Times Oct 13, 2011)


Grounding is for kids


 By John Martin


Of all the protestations and criticisms of the federal government's crime bill that is fast on its way to becoming law, none is lamer than trying to defend conditional sentences. One of the highlights of the legislation, and most welcome reforms, is ending house arrest for serious and violent offenders.

The conditional sentence was a bad idea from the start. Judges have always been able to sentence people to probation instead of prison for most offences so there was absolutely no need for it.

But ever eager to show their self-proclaimed, progressive compassion and moral superiority, the Chretien government proudly introduced yet another vehicle to keep criminals out of jail. At the time, we were informed it would only apply to minor and first time offenders. Those convicted of sexual-, violent-and drug-related crimes would never be eligible for a conditional sentence; so we were told.

It was complete BS of course. Soon everyone; including those convicted of manslaughter and other horrific acts, were lining up for their get-out-of-jail card. Lawyers correctly noted that there was nothing in the law to disqualify most of their clients from being eligible for house arrest.

The new legislation will put an end to this-and not a moment too soon. The Justice Minister, Rob Nicholson, was unequivocally blunt when this legislation was first brought forward: "We want to make it clear that conditional sentences will no longer be available to criminals who commit serious crimes."

Unbelievably though, many are screaming that we mustn't restrict who is eligible for house arrest.

I recall an incident when I was 11 years old and growing up in Richmond. A friend a couple houses down had been caught with cigarettes by his mother. He was grounded. He was grounded for the entire year. He could walk to and from school but that was it. He had to come straight home after school and couldn't leave his property. Friends were allowed over to play but he had to stay put. Same thing during weekends and summer holidays. He couldn't leave his backyard. He went along on family outings from time to time of course. But that was the extent of his leave privileges.

This was the punishment a mother handed out to her 11year-old son.

It's also precisely the punishment that many lawyers, academics, activists and politicians consider entirely appropriate for people who commit violent and serious crimes. Think about this for a moment. Many so-called experts and professionals in this field actually believe "grounding" is a reasonable sanction in response to those who use violence during robberies, stab people and are involved in serious drug trafficking.

Stephen Harper's government is often accused of not listening to the advice and warnings of the "experts."

Based on this case scenario -can you blame them?

John Martin is a Criminologist at the University of the Fraser Valley and can be contacted at


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