The last week has witnessed a couple of highly distressing criminal homicides in Canada’s two largest cities. Luka Magnotta’s alleged murder and dismemberment of a Chinese Exchange Student was gravely aggravated when the crime was allegedly videotaped and posted on the internet. It was further sensationalized when body parts were mailed to Ottawa political offices. Four days later, in Toronto’s busy Eaton Centre Mall, a targeted gang related execution occurred in front of thousands of witnesses. Amazingly, there was only one fatality; but tragically six bystanders were accidentally wounded by gunfire including a thirteen old boy, visiting Toronto with his family. Meanwhile, a pregnant woman was injured in the chaos that ensued, as literally hundreds of scared mall-goers headed for cover and/or exits.
Arrests have now been made in both cases. But as details trickle out regarding both events, the efficacy of our Criminal Justice System unavoidably is being assessed.
We have recently learned that the suspect in the Toronto shooting was subject to House Arrest and was awaiting court dates on other serious charges. Unless he lives at Eaton Centre, clearly he was not in his house.
When the Government recently amended the Criminal Code through Bill C-10 to severely restrict the availability of House Arrest as an appropriate sentencing disposition, it received the usual outcry from the usual suspects. “Prison is cruel; prison does not lead to rehabilitation. Prison is expensive and turns misguided individuals into hardcore criminals”. Although there may be some truth to some of those arguments, what is the alternative???
Left -leaning criminologists and their mouthpieces in the Official Opposition cite decreasing official crime statistics as proof that the Government’s tough on crime agenda is misguided. This blog and this blogger have argued many times that statistics can be manipulated to prove or disprove anything. Depending on what year one chooses as the benchmark (1971 is popular among those who wish to show crime trending downwards), will determine in which direction crime is trending. Moreover, many police forces have changed their methodology as to how they report crime, preferring incident reporting over crime counting. Accordingly, a spree of Break and Enters in an evening would have traditionally resulted in a count of say six B and E’s. But since only one file is opened on one suspect, the preferred methodology is to count this as one incident. As a result, simply changing the counting methodology has lowered the crime rate in my hypothetical from 6 to 1.
I, and most police officers and crown prosecutors, severely doubt that the crime rate is down. I never hear law enforcement professionals complain that their caseloads have been reduced or they have too much time on their hands!
Regardless, it is irrelevant. The question should not be whether the crime rate is up or down; the more relevant question is whether the crime rate is acceptable. If you are a grieving family mourning a lost loved one, it is of absolutely no comfort to you that criminologists believe that crime rates are down.
Prisons are expensive and sometimes they do not rehabilitate the offender. Some offenders are incorrigible and beyond rehabilitation. For such reprobates, the prison system admittedly may not serve as a place of correction. Regardless, society needs to be protected from such anti-social behavior. When deterrence fails, incapacity must replace it. A free and safe society deserves no less.