Take a second look at stories about surging crime
A recent media report noted that crime in Canada has increased for the second consecutive year, with violent crime reaching its highest point since 2007. Stories such as this are usually followed by calls to increase funding for police and the justice system.
I would urge people to take a breather and consider the reasons for the increase in police-reported crime.
One of the prime reasons is the end of the pandemic. Those of us who work in the criminal justice system fully expected that there would be a rise in charges during COVID-19 when people were forced to stay in the safety of their own homes.
Sadly, one of the crimes that did surge during COVID was domestic assault. Those already in troubled relationships were forced to spend days and nights with their partners, leading to an increase in intimate partner violence.
Child abuse dropped, or did it?
A police officer recently told me there was much less crime against children reported during the pandemic. I asked why. He explained that the people who typically report seeing offences against children, such as teachers and daycare staff, no longer had access to the children during the pandemic. They no longer witnessed the bruising and injuries they normally would see and report to authorities. Unfortunately, it wasn’t that violence against children declined, it just went unseen.
Another media report based on StatsCan figures states that the “rate of police-reported sexual assault in Canada has reached its highest level since 1996.”
What this article does not explain is that the term “sexual assault” covers a wide range of activities. At the low end, it includes the touching of intimate body parts. The term also includes rape. We must be careful when we read that sexual assaults are increasing. How many involve inappropriate touching versus forced intercourse?
Sexual assault is not easy to measure
Another question involved the timing of these alleged offences. There is no statute of limitations for filing a report about sexual assault. Thanks to the #MeToo movement and other social trends, many people are now coming forward with accounts of sexual assault that happened years or decades ago.
Are those reports being included in the current statistics about sexual assaults? If so, that skews the current data and the conclusions that can be drawn from it.
Another factor that throws off the numbers is that some officers lay multiple charges for the same offence. For example, a person may be charged with assault, assault with a weapon and assault causing bodily harm for one crime, whereas another police officer in the same situation would only lay one charge.
The way an officer proceeds with charges can unfairly increase any measure about the actual crime rate.
Getting ‘tough’ on crime does not help
The Conservatives insist that the federal Liberal government is soft on crime. That accusation was renewed after the government removed many mandatory minimum penalties from the Criminal Code.
The Code has always set out the maximum sentences for any crime. But a previous Conservative government wanted it also to spell out minimum sentences for certain offences.
I am encouraged the Liberals rolled back many of these mandatory minimum sentences. First of all, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is there to defend against harsh penalties and actions by the government. More importantly, mandatory minimum sentences deter judges from determining what is a fit sentence for the crime.
Let’s say there was a mandatory minimum sentence that stated that anyone who sexually assaulted a minor should go to jail. There are always extenuating circumstances with any crime that may indicate incarceration is unfair.
In the case of sexually assaulting a minor, the Code states it is a crime to engage in sex with a 15-year-old if the offender is more than five years older than the victim. But what if the age difference was five years and three days? Why should that person go to jail when someone three days younger would not suffer the same fate?
Real-life examples like this were the reason why mandatory minimums were struck down by the courts. Judges now have the freedom to craft sentences that reflect the crime.
Mandatory jail sentences also prevent people from being given conditional sentences, more commonly known as house arrest. That is ironic, as the length of a conditional sentence is usually longer than a jail term and they prevent the guilty party from making reparations.
I had a client who was convicted of defrauding someone of approximately $40,000. Instead of sending them to jail, the judge agreed to give her a stringent conditional sentence that allowed her to keep working and to pay back the defrauded money. Since she was still employed, my client was able to make regular payments throughout her house arrest and into the probation period that followed. If she had been sent to jail, that money would not have been paid back and she would have had bleak employment opportunities going forward.
Contact me for assistance
I have built a solid rapport with court officials, Crown attorneys, judges and fellow defence lawyers through my work as a criminal lawyer in the Capital Region. They know I can be trusted to provide a solid defence for clients while respecting the rules of the court. Contact me for more information and a free consultation.