Minimum sentences for gun crimes

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

The Conservative government has cracked down on crime with new initiatives to combat “serious crimes.”

But the proposals have been met with some criticism.

Members of the opposition claim the new legislation resembles American-style drug laws. Some question the value of these ideas, especially mandatory minimum sentencing.

Mandatory minimum sentencing means a person convicted of a crime must be imprisoned for a minimum term, as opposed to leaving the length of punishment up to judges.

Currently, there are approximately 40 offences under the Canadian Criminal Code that carry a mandatory minimum sentence, but only offences involving firearms, sexual offences involving children, and impaired driving are covered.

In a speech on Oct. 4, Prime Minister Stephen Harper proposed possible future legislation that would lengthen existing minimum sentences for gun crimes. The proposed legislation would also entail “mandatory prison sentences for people convicted of serious drug offences.”

“These are serious crimes ... those who commit them should do serious time.”

However, a report released by the Parliamentary Information and Research Service of the Library of Parliament, stated: “Mandatory minimum sentences are generally inconsistent with [legal principles], as they do not allow a judge to make any exception in an appropriate case.”

Paul Whitehead, criminology professor at Western, questioned the logic behind increasing the length of mandatory minimum sentences.

“Simply increasing sentences for gun-related crimes doesn’t deter the use of them ... It’s one of those things that needs to be followed up by the police and border patrol.”

But the London Police Service is in agreement with the government’s plans.

“Certain crimes, [especially] violent crimes; these are crimes that people are tired of hearing about over and over again,” Ian Peer, Deputy Chief of London Police Services, said.

Peer said Canada does not have a high incarceration rate and the adoption of more ‘American-style’ laws would not necessarily mean the levels of incarceration would increase to American standards.

“Canada is not a society that generally incarcerates people,” he said.

One thing Peer did stress, however, was the need for careful consideration of any proposed crime bills.

“Crime bills mean more police officers, and more police officers are going to detect more crime. Do we have the jails and programming to accommodate all of this?”

“There’s a lot to it ... This has to be a systems-wide approach.”

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