Renewed light for tired problems

Sept 12. 2019

(Ed note: Smart Justice Network Canada (SJNC) has been working quietly for a new vision of criminal justice in Canada and has outlined what that new vision would propose.  We offer the perspective for election reflection / formation.)


Recognize that effective solutions require comprehensive attention to the multi-faceted and unmet social, health and economic needs of children, families and communities.

Fully appreciate that the justice system alone cannot respond effectively to the diversity of challenges people and communities experience.

Increase collaborative partnerships based on mutual respect for the unique contributions all partners make; partnerships across many different sectors – health, education, justice, child welfare, social services, economic development, as well as cultural, recreation and community-based initiatives.

Respect and support culturally sensitive engagement and collaborative community responses to justice issues. Learn from and honour indigenous teachings and traditional ways. Support the reconciliation work required across Canada.

Collectively explore connections between criminal and social justice issues stemming from health, employment, housing, poverty, education, addictions and mental health.

Rely on evidence-based, innovative approaches within and outside of government that effectively change the intolerable, seemingly entrenched current outcomes that undermine prevention, rehabilitation and squander public funds.

Build skills and processes for participatory democracy for everyone to constructively share the work of building the social capital necessary to create connected, healthy communities and take up their civic responsibilities to participate in making the hard moral decisions that set priorities and policies for their communities.

Move expenditures from excessive investments in courts and prisons to investments in supporting victims, rehabilitating offenders and building multi-dimensional, community-based approaches.

Canada may be on the cusp of a new way of understanding what justice requires
What needs to change and why?
 Here are examples of why changes are needed in the criminal justice system:
  1. The criminal justice system is being used inappropriately for issues that could be dealt with more effectively, by other sectors: – social services / health / mental health / poverty / education / labour / housing /child protection /substance abuse.
  2. There are built-in constraints in the current criminal justice system (i.e. legal / policy) that prevent actors in the system from making decisions that collaborate better with other sectors.
  3. The criminal justice system too often operates in a box and does not work with other sectors to better address how life really is.
  4. Our society over-uses criminalization and our criminal justice system over-uses punitive sanctions, particularly incarceration, resulting in court backlogs, overcrowding in remand and prison. (see, at Appendix Two, Law Commission of Canada, What is a Crime? Challenges and Alternatives: Discussion Paper, 2003)
  5. Even where the criminal justice system is used appropriately, it is ill equipped to address the broad range of harms experienced by individuals, families and communities, and their relationships. It doesn’t help people heal,

Based on data collected from the past 40 years, the Smart Justice Network of Canada has an evidence-based vision for a justice system which would make communities healthier and safer.

We believe that the criminal justice system must be more than an end in itself, and it is capable of more than “punishing” offenders.

The criminal justice process in Canada must hold offenders accountable in ways that contribute to the safety and health of the community itself.

We believe that the wisdom already exists to make positive changes in our perspectives, policies and procedures to ensure that our criminal justice system works well for Canadians.


Public Safety Canada
Bill C-83 – Members of the Structured Intervention Unit Implementation Advisory Panel

The government has gone a long way to re-assure its critics around Bill 83 which eliminates solitary confinement in Canada’s federal prisons except in certain cases.  It has appointed a panel to monitor and direct the practice of solitary.  The appointees are professionals with known integrity and long-time exposure to these prisons and the criminal justice system.  Chair Professor Tony Doob has co-published Criminological Highlights from the University of Toronto for some time.  Ed McIsaac has named for him a human rights award with the federal Office of the Correctional Investigator.  Other members are chosen from background experience in which one finds many of the sore points in the justice system, especially Indigenous and women issues.–members-of-the-structured-intervention-unit-implementation-advisory-panel.html

National Newswatch – Mia Rabson, Canadian Press
Threats, abuse move from online to real world, McKenna now requires security

This link may provide a sort of reality check for the potential for right wing agendas to impact our lives from within Canada.  Most unusually, Environmental Minister McKenna has been assigned personal security teams.  McKenna and leaders of other environmental and ecology groups, mostly women, are repeatedly reporting threats and public verbal assaults, even when they are accompanied by their children in public.

Toronto Star – Jacques Gallant
Ontario’s top judges slam Ford government over cuts to legal aid

Chief Justice of Ontario George Strathy thinks the cuts to legal aid will not actually save any money at all because the lack of representation will increase both the number of accused representing themselves and the time it takes in court.  Additionally, the poor and the vulnerable will suffer the most of these adverse impacts.  The Chief Justice was speaking at the opening of the courts for the year.  The cuts amounted to 30% of the legal aid budget, dropping it by $133 million from the anticipated $456 million.

Toronto Star – Rosie DiManno
Toronto police are considering collecting race-based data. Will it really be different this time around?

The question of collecting racial data on police encounters with the public has always been controversial, especially around the practice of stopping, questioning and recording those stops when there is no apparent legal justification.  What was abhorred and forbidden some time ago now seems to be gaining in approval, even though the historic misuse of the data still remains, and the issue of ethnicity vs race seems ignored.  The wisdom, says DiManno, is not clear. (US) – Amanda Perry
Suicide in the criminal justice system

In view of the Sept 10 World Suicide Prevention Day, Perry invites us to a review of the prevalence.  Perry says 800,000 suicides a year, and that male inmates are five times more likely, female inmates 20 times more likely.  The next step to declaring the prison suicide a health many is relatively easy.  Factors in prison suicides?  “The most important being occupation of a single cell, recent suicidal ideation, a history of attempted suicide, and having a psychiatric diagnosis or history of alcohol use problems. These factors provide the opportunity to inform suicide prevention strategies for individuals in custody.”   Related article: CBC News – Ashleigh Mattern  ‘Final frontier of stigma’: Senator speaks up on World Suicide Prevention Day

The (US) – Daniel Nichanian
Texas: In approving bail reform, federal judge rebukes Houston’s DA for using the Willie Horton strategy

The struggle with bail reform, especially cash bail, and especially the failure to recognize personal recognizance as an option, is clearly evident here.  Federal Judge Lee Rosenthal is resisting the antics of the District Attorney Kim Ogg who, says the judge, is resisting by invoking the Willie Horton strategy:  ruling on all cases on the basis of the worst.  Denial of reform by pointing to the absolute most horrendous is a considerable obstacle to common sense and to needed reform.

The Marshall Project (US) – Mia Armstrong
Here’s Why Abolishing Private Prisons Isn’t a Silver Bullet

Sometimes the focus of our critique of the justice system simplifies to the misleading.  Private prisons in the US house only about 8% of the 2.6 million incarcerated or 15% of federal inmates and about 7% of state inmates.  The complexity expands when the outsourcing of services to private companies is factored into the issue.  But the relatively low percentage does not deter from the wisdom of ending the private prison system, currently overflowing into immigration detention as well. Armstrong also considers restructuring the private prison contacts for better outcomes.