During five years in minority government, Stephen Harper’s Conservatives introduced 61 crime bills. In doing so, they successfully portrayed themselves as favouring harsh treatment for offenders. If “being tough” were all there was to criminal punishment, they would have been successful. But it isn’t that simple.
Most Canadians believe what the law has said for years: “A sentence
must be proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the degree of
responsibility of the offender.” But ensuring that this happens is not
easy. In 2010, the Alberta Court of Appeal noted that judges sentencing
identical cases would often hand down different sentences. When prison
sentences are imposed, the portion of the time that is actually served
in prison is not completely predictable. Many people think offenders
will routinely be released on parole, although that isn’t the case.
and release from prison, two parts of our punishment system, deserve
thoughtful attention. Fixing the problems that exist in each will not be
easy. But the Conservatives have systematically avoided addressing the
difficult and real problems facing the criminal justice system.
Tony Doob, one of the authors of this piece, is a Professor Emeritus at the Centre. Tom