Tories push crime agenda

Bruce Campion-Smith
Ottawa bureau chief
Published on Wednesday July 30, 2008

LUCAS OLENIUK/TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO An inmate in Manitoba looks out from behind bars in this file photo.

LUCAS OLENIUK/TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO An inmate in Manitoba looks out from behind bars in this file photo.


OTTAWA–The crime rate in Canada remains “unacceptably high” and the federal Conservatives are “just getting started” on their measures to tackle it, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson says.

The justice minister yesterday defended the Tories’ move to mandatory sentences, saying it’s vital to send a message to criminals involved in drugs and guns. And he made clear that the Conservatives intend to take further action to tackle crime in the country.

The Conservatives campaigned on a law-and-order agenda in the last election and in recent months have implemented legislation dictating longer minimum sentences for some drug and gun crimes.

A recent Star series, titled Crime and Punishment, raised questions about the effectiveness of such sentences. The series profiled several U.S. jurisdictions, suggesting that mandatory minimums result in prison overcrowding and drive correctional costs up, but provide little deterrence to would-be criminals.

That has led to calls for greater investments in social and neighbourhoods programs for at-risk youth, counselling for addicts and other steps to curb the causes of crime.

Yesterday, Nicholson made no apologies for his government’s crime reforms. “Crime rates are unacceptably high in Canada and we are prepared to do something about it,” Nicholson said after touring a youth detention centre in Ottawa.

“I can tell you we’re all alone in that as a political party and as a government. I get no support from the other political parties. … It’s not a priority with them,” he said.

“It is a priority with us. … We’re just getting started,”

Asked whether mandatory sentences were a deterrent, Nicholson said such sentences convey a message criminals need to hear.

“We’re sending out the right message, I think, when we’re telling them you’ll spend five years in a federal penitentiary and if you don’t get the message the first time, it’ll be seven years the second time,” he said.

“It’s a message that we want to get out very clearly to people – don’t get involved with gun crimes, don’t get involved with drugs. … If you do, you will pay the price.”

Without mandatory sentences, Nicholson suggested that convicted criminals would be causing trouble on the streets of Canadian cities.

“What are the costs when those people are not being detained? There is a cost to society when an individual who should be detained is not. That costs Canadian taxpayers and it certainly costs Canadian victims,” he said.

The Tory government’s Tackling Violent Crime Act became law on May 1, increasing the minimum sentences for gun-related crimes. For crimes such as attempted murder, sexual assault and robbery, including possession of a loaded firearm, an offender is facing a minimum term of three years for a first offence, up from one year, and five years for second offence.

While Canada’s crime rate has dropped more than 25 per cent in the last 15 years, Nicholson said his government is only responding to public demand to do more.

“People say `violent youth crime is stable.’ Well, I can tell you that is unacceptable to Canadians and we have indicated to Canadians that we are prepared to do something about it,” he said. “We don’t govern by statistics in our government. We’re governing by what we told and promised Canadians.”

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