Guilty Until Proven Innocent

From today’s Globe And Mail:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper took a page out of tough U.S. justice legislation yesterday by announcing that his government will introduce a three-strikes law to force repeat violent and sexual offenders to justify why they should not be locked away indefinitely.

Ah, so this is what Harper meant by “get tough on crime.” Let’s take a look at what this would mean.

First, it’s a strike against that whole “innocent until proven guilty” thing we like to value. The accused would be responsible for proving that they’re not a danger to society, instead of leaving that responsibility with the crown to prove that they are. Call me old-fashioned, but I like the presumption of innocence. (Just so everyone knows what a radical I am, I’m also a fan of habeas corpus.)

Some of you may not be convinced that that’s a big problem, since we are talking about third-time offenders of violent and sexual crimes. Fine. So then, this plan would at least reduce crime, right?

Wrong. From the same article:

[The announcement] was resoundingly panned by justice experts who say similar measures south of the border have proved ineffective in reducing crime…The California law caused an increase in the state prison population of 17.7 per cent between 1993 and 2002 while the crime rate dropped more slowly than that of other states, such as New York, where there was no three-strikes law.

Oh, ok. So we’ll have a bigger prison population, more crime than we would otherwise, and fewer liberties.

Also, according to both Harper and my rudimentary understanding of the fact that jails cost money, it’ll cost more.

One other quote from the article really struck me, “Mr. Harper said his government is answering a call from Canadians who believe the country is not as safe as it once was.” The key word there, of course, is believe, since crime is actually on the decline in Canada.

There was a telling moment in a recent Toronto municipal campaign town hall broadcast on CBC, when a reporter asked the council candidates to explain why they thought Canadians felt less safe, when in fact they were more safe. The candidates’ answers were regrettably predictable; they didn’t even understand the question. They just went on and on about how we have to get tough on crime, whatever that means, as politicians tend to do.

I think I’ve figured out where we got the idea that we shouldn’t feel safe. And I think I know who benefits.

9 thoughts on “Guilty Until Proven Innocent

  1. Call me when your child is the fourth victem of a pedophile, much like what happened in Saskatchewan and tell me again how they are “innocent until proven guilty”. We are not talking about innocent people here, we are talking about keeping repeat violent offenders off the streets. I fail to see the arguement. When a pedophile such as Whitmore has spent less than two years in prison , his second offence was a multiple, but thanks to Canadian law can only be tried as one, why should this man be free.

    He has continuously refused treatment, and sees nothing wrong with his sexual preference. THESE are the people we are talking about, these are not innocent people. When it comes to guys like Whitemore, any more than two strikes is one too many.

    But feel free to let them loose on your own children by all means….

  2. I’d prefer if Canada looked to the treason that some of Harper’s MP’s have visited on Canada by attending the secret Banff meeting about unifying Canada’s “security” issues than for Toews to be touting some candy law like this.
    This whole law and order progrom is a sop, something to distract law abiding Canadians from the real treachery taking place in our own country to effect integration of three countries into on.
    Harper wants to be King, but he’ll settle for governor of the next State.
    I am all in favour of law and order identifying, rectifying and possibly ostracising (imprisoning) of gross offenders. However, I still believe it is up to the State (Canada is this case at this date) to prove that the person in question is unfit to walk freely among Canadian citizens.
    There is no doubt that offenders and pedophiles need to be dealt with. Canadians must remember that these convicted pedophiles or other criminals must be treated fairly under Canadian law which is generally up to the task when prosecuted vigorously.
    Canada does not need a new criminal law requiring a person to prove they are NOT guilty. If such a law had been in place, where would our own innocent, jailed and ultimately freed people be now?
    I’m not talking Arar here. But his case is a prime example.
    What if Arar had been charged with proving he did nothing wrong?
    This is a stupid law, designed to attract stupid people to its cause, and to ensnare many innocent people to bolster the billions to be set aside for prison housing while letting the actual perpetrators of crimes go free.

  3. Dazz: At the risk of sounding flip, maybe you stopped reading before the part about how the evidence shows that laws like this actually retard the reduction of crime. If there was evidence that this would actually prevent crime we could have that debate, but there isn’t. The other problem with the emotional argument, “what if it was your kid,” is that it can be applied beyond all reason. As for someone like Whitmore, I didn’t say don’t jail him, I said that it’s up to the crown to prove he’s a danger to society. Sounds like that shouldn’t be a problem, so your example is moot.

    Anonymous: See also this post.

  4. Whitmore could have been covered by the dangerous offenders act. This act needs to be strengthened and judges should begin to take into account the history of the offender. Not at the individual trial but at sentencing after a conviction has been won based on the evidence in the case. Members of my family have been exposed to sexual violence but I still believe in the rule of law. Not vigilante justice. Three strikes your out would not have applied to Whitmore until his third conviction. A strengthened dangerous offender act would address him much sooner. The only people going to jail based on three strikes are poor people and minorities who are convicted at a much higher rate than wealthier offenders. It is fundamentally unfair. It doesn’t deal with the Witmores of society and wasn’t ultimately meant to.

  5. I must say it would deliver a good scare straight tactic. DON’T COMMIT CRIMES and you don’t have to worry. People assume that 3 strike strike law is all it is at face value. It’s not. Read up section PART XXIV in the Martin’s Annual Criminal Code and there is another portion to this law that GIVES you a chance BUT puts you in the system for a LONG TIME. In the double digits. It is called the Long Term Offender Supervision Order. How do I know? I am currently serving one myself of a total 8 years and 10 months. I was convicted of Arson 10 times from 1993-2000. I was faced with this law back in 2000 after I set a fire in a hotel going a couple of sex offenders but I stopped short as there probably some people who may not be sex criminals. I had .33 alcohol is my blood stream that night. Eight days later, I was told by my lawyer that the court was seeking 4 years Plus Dangerous Offender designation. I have not since returned to crime. My sentence expires Feburary 1, 2010. I am 34 now and was 27 at the time of my arrest. That application probably saved my life and I have been scared straight by it. I am in a strong favor of 3 strikes. The attitudes I have seen in the Federal Penitentiary is horrible. Lots of people who hate and blame others for thier misfortunes. I was one at one point but I had to look at my self for the pain I caused or could have caused. I felt that prison was a form of purgatory. I never want to go back. I am a father now and I pay my taxes. I believe that the DO law should go ahead as it is a good scared measure. It would scare the living shit out of even the hardest con. NOONE WANTS TO BE LOCKED UP FOR LIFE. Even the toughest guys. I have served with guys who had faced DO hearings and they like myself are out and have not returned. It scares you straight. Keep the law. Sacrifices have to be made even at a high financial cost. I’LL pay my taxes to keep the most dangerous off the street.

  6. I was wondering if anyone has an interest in helping figure out the effectiveness of crime prevention in Canada. I am having a very hard time locating any reports or literature on what is being done right now to deter crime. I need something describing what is being done, what has worked and what needs to change within the concept of crime prevention. thank you for your time, Me

  7. Let me see here… It seems to me the law in Canada has always been “guilty until proven innocent.” At least that is what they taught us when I studied law.

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