Sunday, July 02, 2006

Criminal Justice

Dear Indigna,

I recently returned from a visit to Toronto where I was astonished to read the following stories in the June 23, 2006 edition of the Globe and Mail newspaper:

1) A man was found not guilty of sexually assaulting a 13-year-old because he had been "traumatized" by a six-month tour of duty in Bosnia in the early 1990s

2) Judges ruled that "deterrence" should not be a goal of juvenile justice and upheld the one-day sentence of a teenager who beat a man to death for "looking at" the youth's girlfriends

3) A review board found that "day parole" was properly granted to a 51-year-old man who by the age of 25 had received more than twelve 15-year sentences--all for separate crimes committed while out on parole for one of the earlier sentences--and while out on the "unescorted temporary absence pass" in question, eight years after receiving a life sentence for "more than two dozen bank robberies," committed seven murders.

My question is bipartite: why does Canada have a reputation for being so safe, and how can our justice system not see the role of get-out-of-jail free cards so freely issued in the first two cases in creating career predators like the one in the third case?

Appalled Lawabider
Upper Dildo, Newfoundland

Dear Appalled,

My condolences on your rude awakening to the realities of filthy crime in our world. The fact is, Canada is incredibly safe. That's why these crimes are so unspeakably unanticipated, indeed so unprecedented that the judges are not quite sure what to do about them. The "offenders" in question have been proven to be Canadian by birth and upbringing, which clearly indicates that they are "good." How to explain these odd circumstances, then?

Well, in the first case you cite, the guy's a veteran! Doesn't he deserve some respect and appreciation? He must be good if he served his country. Hence, the only possible explanation for the man's actions is the more than decade-old trauma of serving his country. It's really all Canada's fault.

In the second case, the young fellow in question was simply trying to defend the honour of his lady-friends. We can't possibly know what kind of dirty look the alleged victim violated them with because, well, he's dead, so we just have to take the word of the only other witness--the "accused." Here's a young guy, just fifteen at the time, and he's trying to be Dudley Do-Right by putting a billiard ball into a sock and knocking the brains out of some vile, leering passerby. Why would we want to punish such chivalrous behaviour? And really, can such young people as these understand the concept of "deterrence"? Kids will be kids, which means they will continue to pulpify total strangers at the drop of a hat without thinking through their actions, so "punishing" them in the name of "deterrence" is really like expecting a two-year-old to refrain from shooting his uncle with the shotgun he found under the bed because his neighbour was sentenced to prison for the same mistake. Until children reach the age of reason--say, thirty--they really cannot be held accountable for their actions taken in good faith.

As for the last guy, well, listen, he kept telling the parole board he was going to shape up! How could they know he would fail? Can we fault the board for their simple faith in human ambition and the inspiring hope of reform? And does a lapse in one's aspiration to reform constitute a "lie"? At worst, he has repeatedly fallen off the "I will not commit armed robbery and torture killings" wagon. Ought we not to have compassion, rather than anger, for such a lost sheep?

Judgemental questioning on the part of the public must be the reason why Canadian jurists are beginning to emigrate to the United States. Why, just recently one of them compassionately imposed only probation on the repeat rapist of a twelve-year-old girl because the poor fella is just over five feet tall and clearly not robust enough to face the American prison system. He did, of course, make the little guy "promise" to stay away from children under 18. Now, if the prison system in the U.S. were just a bit more like the gentle, caring, revolving door in Canada, perhaps that judge could have sentenced him to a few weeks in the pokey and wouldn't have had to send that guy back into the girl's neighbourhood. Eh?


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