Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Crime and Penalties

"There are some clients of ours who can afford to pay victim fine surcharges and other who can't." "Where you have a client who is poor, who is marginalized, who is living an existence on the streets, who is addicted, who perhaps is already wavering under a series of previously imposed victim fine surcharges and can't possibly climb out from under that obligation through any legal means, are you going to then expose your client to even more of a burden? Or are you going to strategize the plea so your client isn't under a legal obligation to have to come up with funds that the client will never be able to amass?"
Ann Reid, Ottawa lawyer

"This issue has placed tension between the government and courts in a unique way."
"As much as this is about the question of fairness with respect to the victim surcharge policy itself, I think this is also about judicial discretion. It kind of goes hand in hand with other issues like mandatory minimum sentencing."
Emmett MacFarlane, political science professor, constitutional expert, University of Waterloo

"When you have a mandatory fine like this, what it means is that poor people receive harsher sentences than rich people."
"The court needs to be able to take into account people's financial circumstances. We don't think that people should have to choose between paying the rent, buying food to feed their families or paying the surcharge."
Jackie Esmonde, lawyer, Income Security Advocacy Centre

The Conservative-led federal government in Canada decided it was time to put forward policies that would reflect a more stern deterrent effect on those who commit crime in Canada. Their 'tough on crime' legislation was not universally hailed when the measures were introduced. The waiving of doubling time served under detention awaiting trial, the mandated minimum sentences and other tougher sentencing items were held by many lawyers to be unnecessary.

Statistics Canada had produced numbers that showed crime was on the decrease in Canada, so many felt that increasing penalties for crime was redundant. On the other hand, people in general, the voting public, those who have suffered from the fallout of crime, including those concerned reading about the prevalence of criminal acts often give their full support to any toughening legislation to reflect a government serious about making crime less attractive to those who commit them.

Since there really are no victimless crimes -- crime directly affects many people in society who become the victims, and when crimes occur society in general picks up the cost of policing, of medical costs associated with many crimes, of court and prosecution costs, and of course the price of incarceration of those found guilty of charges brought against them in a court of law who, when found guilty are then sentenced to serve time in jail.
"I was completely broken, betrayed. The person I had just spent ten years with [second husband who had raped her 14-year-old daughter] given my heart and soul, had done the unimaginable. I thought for sure I was going to die of a broken heart. It was the worst feeling in the world. You just keep thinking the worst is past, when does the good come? I'm still waiting."
Susan, Ottawa mother of five, two under age six
"They may need counselling. They may need financial support. They may need relocation. They may need group work, group support."
"They need it packaged up. They need it handed to them on a silver platter versus having them to do all the work. Sometimes it is too overwhelming."
"They just don't have the reserve to take on one more thing. They are still kind of spinning from or are numb from what has happened to them or their family."
Val Hutt, victim support worker, Child and Youth Witness Support Program
Val Hutt “They need it packaged up. They needed it handed to them on a silver platter versus having them to do all the work. Sometimes it is too overwhelming," says Hutt. “They just don’t have the reserve to take on one more thing. They are still kind of spinning from or are numb from what has happened to them or their family.”
Val Hutt, former policewoman, victim support worker   Wayne Cuddington / Ottawa Citizen
When the victim surcharge bill was passed into law on October 24, 2013, there was an almost immediate backlash from some judges who felt conflicted over how best to balance the rights of victims against the levying of a surcharge upon perpetrators of crime, some of whom are petty or casual criminals with little-to-no income, some living on the streets with mental health issues or drug dependency, some living on welfare, with scant to spare beyond their bare existence.

Reflecting this reality, some judges balked and refused to levy the crime surcharge, or did so in an evasive manner that simply skirted the charge altogether, while other judges felt that since it was law, it must be reflected in the sentence. So there are some judges who flatly refuse its imposition, and others who when those whose sentences are assessed appear unable to pay, give them decades to pay the surcharge, while others simply levy nominal sums amounting to pennies.

The surcharge under law amounts to $100 or $200, reflecting each conviction, dependent on the offence severity. Or, alternately, an amount equal to 30 percent of any imposed fine. Victim groups began to complain that judges took steps by bypass the surcharge when a criminal was sentenced to prison, without the justice make an effort to determine whether there was an ability to pay to begin with. Treating the law, in other words, as a nuisance to be overlooked.

For Susan, whose husband had sexually molested her teen-age daughter, a horrible family trauma that persuaded her two step-sons to leave the family home, alienated her traumatized daughter from her entire family, causing her to leave, and leaving Susan with her two under-six children from the marriage shattered and bereft of any hope for the future, she was also left with no financial back-up. She was a stay-at-home mother, didn't work, and discovered that her husband had cleaned out their bank account.
'Susan' has used victim services, and says there aren't enough services to help her and her family.     Julie Oliver / OTTAWA CITIZEN
Her reliance on the victim support worker who threw her a life-line in knowledgeable support and empathetic guidance, meant that she could function and find a way out of the dilemma that had submerged her into degraded misery. A support worker who could also work with her daughter whose life has been devastated, and with a psychiatrist . Funding for the Child and Youth Witness Support Program is tight, enabling them to offer bare-bones counselling and support.

Criminal activity goes well beyond the debased act of offences against human dignity, trust and compassion; it ruins people's lives, and society has an obligation to find ways to help those whose lives have been so dreadfully impacted by the life-destroying misdeeds of the sociopaths and psychopaths who flourish in any society by victimizing others.

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