Our home and native land…

 Dec 9, 2013

 Toronto Star – Atkinson Series
Canada: It really is our home and native land 

 This article is the start of two weeks of commentary and analysis on Canada and the willingness to participate actively in our democratic processes.  This first article suggests that Canada is pulling us apart rather than bonding us as a people, even though new comers and home grown Canadians are about equal in the sense of belonging.     http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2013/12/07/canada_it_really_is_our_home_and_native_land.html   Related articles – Toronto Star – Michael Valpy     Young, and on the sidelines   The young will inherit a future they didn’t choose   The new kids on the block    Series link:  http://www.thestar.com/search.html?q=Atkinson+Series

Toronto Star – Alex Boutilier
Ottawa’s bill for extra legal services has soared over seven years 

 The federal government is involved in about 50,000 lawsuits and its legal costs over the last seven years have jumped to $2.7 billion, largely says David Daubney because of the out sourcing to private firms and because the feds are a very litigious government.  The article includes an analysis of the huge costs increases from outsourcing other professional services as well.    http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2013/12/06/ottawas_bill_for_extra_legal_services_has_soared_over_seven_years.html

Graham Stewart
On the value of deterrence as a rationale for severe sentencing… 
 (Ed’s note:  Graham is retired Executive Director of John Howard Canada.  We offer our thanks for his usual pointed and succinct analysis.)

In my view the most insidious of all purposes for sentencing is the notion of deterrence – for two reasons:

1.    It is a sentencing principle that takes what is inherently a soul-destroying harmful process and dresses it up as having a noble purpose. Without the cover of deterrence, punishment would be seen as being entirely negative. Punishment might, arguably,  be seen as justifiable as a way for society to denounce harmful acts, but because it is entirely negative it would need to be no more than absolutely necessary to avoid being as morally repugnant as the criminal act being punished. Without deterrence as a basis for sentencing we are pretty much left with the notion of fairness/proportionality as the primary principle. With deterrence as a goal, we can top up any punishment essentially without restraint. The removal of deterrence and denunciation as a purpose of sentencing in the YCJA was a sore point for the hardliners who felt that this rational made sentences too soft and hence the push to return those objectives.

2.    Punishing a person more than fairness would justify in order to deter another person from committing the same act or the same person from repeating the crime really means that the person is being punished for something that has not happened. It is very difficult to come up with any morally defensible principle for the use of deterrence under these circumstances or guidelines that would limit its use.

The fact that there is so little evidence that deterrence in the form of sentencing severity has any impact on future criminality has had little influence with the current government’s punishment fetish. It is very difficult to continue with harsh punishments while abandoning deterrence as a justification. To continue doing what you want to do, you just ignore the facts. Much as this government deserves caustic criticism for this wilful blindness, the courts have been and continue to be the worst offenders as they constantly justify sentences on the basis that they are deterring someone from doing something. If the courts would drop this rhetoric I think the steam would eventually come out of the political opportunism that it justifies.

There is some evidence that certainty of apprehension has a deterrent effect on some crimes in some circumstances but increasing certainty of apprehension is not always possible and where it is possible it is usually very expensive. Increasing the harshness of sentencing is much cheaper if you ignore that lack of potential benefits as part of the cost projection  Tinkering with sentencing is a cheap way for politicians to appear to be doing something to address public anger and fear.

Nothing, in my mind ever makes deterrence through sentencing effective. Replacing the word “deterrence” with crime” would be my preference.  I don’t see crime as being a reflection on the presence or absence of deterrence through sentencing. Most people are not law-abiding because they are deterred; they obey the law because doing so is consistent with their values. Similarly, most who offend do not do so just because they have been insufficiently deterred. Most have experienced deterrence-based punishment at extreme levels throughout their lives. They don’t have a punishment deficit.  There are far more influential factors that explain why some commit crimes.

 Toronto Star – Jennifer Pagliaro
Federal government seeks to study police use of force 

 Set for completion in April, the federal government floated a request for a study of police use of force.  Prompted by incidents of the use of tasers in particular, the study is intended to help training of front line police in the use of force.  One of the concerns revolves around a capacity to de-escalate.     http://www.thestar.com/news/crime/2013/12/09/federal_government_seeks_to_study_police_use_of_force.html

 Ted Talks
Enrique Peñalosa: Why buses represent democracy in action 

What is needed for “smart development” of cities in the future.  “An advanced city is not one where even the poor use cars, but rather one where even the rich use public transport,” says Enrique Peñalosa. In this spirited talk, the former mayor of Bogotá shares some of the tactics he used to change the system in the Colombian capital … and suggests ways to think about building smart cities of the future.   http://www.ted.com/talks/enrique_penalosa_why_buses_represent_democracy_in_action.html?utm_source=newsletter_weekly_2013-12-06&utm_campaign=newsletter_weekly&utm_medium=email&utm_content=talk_of_the_week_button