Effective Public Safety Policy Reforms
It’s Time... to be Honest about Crime so we can be Smart about Crime
Over the past few months there has been a welcome public conclusion that Canada’s criminal justice system is in urgent need of comprehensive, substantive, informed and multi-jurisdictional reform. What led to this wide-spread perspective?
Sadly, this important development is the result of multiple violent, repeat offenders committing new violent crimes after being released through the appropriately characterized ‘revolving door’ of Canada’s current criminal justice system.
As someone who has been involved in our criminal justice, in both an operational and policy analysis role for over forty years, it is extremely encouraging to see the increasing support for substantive reforms being focused on repeat offenders from multiple players.
Provincial Premiers and Ministers, police organizations (both management and frontline) as individuals and through their local and national groups, and citizen victims are all turning their sights on the cracks through which serious repeat crimes are being perpetrated.
Additionally, the media is playing an important role by digging into and exposing the truth, both in specific cases and systemically.
The result of this has been the growth of an increasingly informed public which is making it clear – to all levels of government – that the current situation is unacceptable and that they want, and expect, to see informed and substantive reforms that actually make a difference in keeping our communities safer.
Having been involved in drafting and promoting specific criminal justice reforms for many years and… ever the optimist… I am hopeful that the current environment will be one in which real progress can finally be achieved.
Before we look at targeted reforms, I will share some ‘systemic’ issues that will be relevant to achieving these goals.
- Don’t succumb to the traditional excuse of “I can’t do anything until I can do everything.” These are complex issues which require targeted, Charter compliant reforms as well, potentially, as supportive non-legislative actions. It doesn’t have to be done all in one Bill.
- Our criminal justice system was not created yesterday. It’s a part of our culture and is based on principles that have been developed and evolved since before confederation. That doesn’t mean these principles themselves can’t evolve, but the societal values they represent should be remembered.
- The historical genius of our criminal justice system is its ability to deal with a specific offender and a specific offence – it was never intended to be a ‘one size fits all’ system, and never should be.
- It’s important to remember that process is supposed to serve purpose, and not the other way around.
- A core part of our criminal justice system is the discretion of our public officials, the scope of which can be defined through our legislative system as well as our Charter-empowered courts. It’s important, however, to also keep in mind (as reported by an Irish study decades ago) “Independence and Accountability should not be irreconcilable principles.”
It’s time to enact effective public safety policy reforms. With the above issues in mind, the following are offered as effective, and achievable reforms to improve overall public safety.
1) Reduce Gun Crime in Canada
- Provide federal funding for long promised but not delivered deployment of automated analytical radar technology for enhanced domain awareness to support intelligence led cross border enforcement including between ports of entry to combat the illegal smuggling of guns, drugs, and people into Canada from the U.S.
- Amend the CBSA Act to expressly authorize CBSA officers to enforce mandate legislation between ports of entry.
- Authorize designated CBSA officers to participate in the Shiprider program.
- Amend the Criminal Code to expressly define participation in gun smuggling for profit as an aggravating factor meriting incarceration unless compelling personal circumstances suggest otherwise.
- Allocate federal funding to combat gang recruitment and support gang exit.
2) Improve Policing Services for First Nations
- Provide federal funding and work with First Nations, Provinces and the RCMP to expand First Nations Police Services with local governance and oversight.
3) End the ‘One Size Fits All’ Sentencing System in Canada
Instead of being ‘tough’ on crime or ‘soft’ on crime we need to be honest about crime so we can be smart about crime. To do this we should amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to:
- Create escalating parole ineligibility periods for offenders who commit new crimes while on early release from their previous crime;
- Restrict presumptive statutory release at 2/3 of the imposed sentence to first time federal offenders so that for repeat offenders, in particular, early release is a privilege to be earned rather than a right to be demanded.
- Remove the requirement for CSC (Correctional Services Canada) to request the Parole Board to order detention of an accused for their full sentence and expressly authorize the Parole Board to do so.
- Expressly Require the Parole Board to consider past breaches of early release and the availability of post sentence supervision through preventive recognizances in making its decisions.
- Expand the use of Electronic Monitoring as a release condition for both federal and provincial offenders in appropriate cases, including domestic violence cases, and provide funding to Provinces and First Nations for expanded use of Electronic Monitoring in appropriate cases as an alternative to incarceration or for diversion programs.
- Respect public safety, long standing principles of sentencing, and the right of victim families not to be re-victimized, by drafting an amendment to the Criminal Code and submitting a Charter reference to the Supreme Court of Canada to permit sentencing judges to add consecutive parole ineligibility consequences for multiple murder convictions but allowing the judge to pick the additional ineligibility period and specifying that the maximum total ineligibility period cannot exceed 50 years or rendering parole eligibility beyond a murderer’s 80th birthday.
4) Strengthen Accountability
The axiom that you can’t improve what you don’t measure, is evident here. Crime statistics reporting is woefully deficient, therefore cannot be properly measured, making it more difficult to identify where improvements can be made. At the very least, reporting should be mandated to include the following:
- Number of crimes (by judicial district, by type, and serious specific offences) committed by persons who were on bail, probation, conditional sentence, conditional release (all kinds), who were already subject to criminal deportation, or who had previously been deported on criminality or security grounds.
- The recidivism rate based on offenders’ participation in different Correctional Service of Canada programs.
5) Ensure Canadians know the Truth about their Justice System’s Performance
– Establish an independent investigation and review process to be required for serious crimes committed by repeat offenders – and not by the federal agencies involved reviewing themselves in private.
– Amend the Criminal Code to create an offence for breaching the conditions of conditional release (temporary absence/ parole/statutory release) from an imposed sentence, to conform with current offences of breaching conditions of other forms of release.
It is clear to many Canadians that pragmatic and operationally targeted reforms can help improve our criminal justice system and, likewise, the public safety of our communities. The reforms listed above are achievable and will go a long way to improving the system. Given the current environment, I believe there is a real opportunity for positive change.
Let’s be guided by the reality that we don’t need to be ‘tough’ on crime or ‘soft’ on crime, but we do need to be honest about crime so we can be smart about crime.
Scott Newark is a former Alberta Crown Prosecutor who has also served as the founder of the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime, Executive Officer of the Canadian Police Association, Vice Chair of the Ontario Office for Victims of Crime, Director of Operations for Investigative Project on Terrorism and as a Security Policy Advisor to the governments of Ontario and Canada. He was also an Adjunct Professor in the former TRSS Program in the School of Criminology at Simon Fraser University.