On March 17, 2013, Alison Redford’s PC government broke the back of justice…and none of us saw it coming.
Lady Justice, or Justitia, is the personification of the justice system. Her blindfold symbolizes objectivity, her scales symbolize the balance between truth and fairness and her double-edged sword demonstrates that reason and justice that can be wielded for or against a party.
But this isn’t enough for Ms Redford and her justice minister, Mr Denis. They’ve saddled Justitia with a new prop—an empty sack—which the goddess must now fill with money. The only way Justitia can fill the sack is to throw away her scales and double-edged sword. But she’d better keep her blindfold. She won’t want to see the injustice that will be perpetrated in the name of “streamlining” the administration of justice and ”rehabilitating” less dangerous offenders.
At this point you’re thinking; Ms Soapbox has well and truly lost it. But stick with me and I’ll walk you through this.
“One Free Crime” Or A Gross Miscarriage of Justice?
Yes, the Wildrose “One Free Crime” coupons were extreme (ya think?) and yes, the PCs demanded an apology, but there’s no getting around the fact that the PCs are pushing a plan not to prosecute first and second time offenders who commit “less serious” crimes.
So what’s a “less serious” crime Mr Justice Minister? “We’re talking shoplifting, we’re talking things like vandalism, typically young people, typically as their first offence.”*
Okay, let’s talk shoplifting. Shoplifting is a criminal offence, it’s not a traffic violation. If the accused, say a teenage girl, is arrested, she’s taken to the police station, searched, fingerprinted and photographed. She’s given a court date; and if the prosecutor proves beyond a reasonable doubt that she committed the crime, she’s convicted.
The judge uses his discretion to fit the punishment to the girl’s circumstances. Is she a first time offender? A repeat offender who shows no remorse? And so on. He can impose a penalty ranging from an absolute discharge, to alternative measures like a rehabilitation program or community service, to a fine or jail time. If the girl is lucky and gets a discharge she’ll avoid a criminal record. If not, she’ll be barred from certain jobs and from travelling to certain countries.
In other words, shoplifting is a big deal and a teenager just might think twice before swanning into a Shopper’s Drug Mart with her little pals to swipe a tube of lipstick.
But the Justice Minister sees the situation differently. Instead of prosecuting these first and second time offenders he wants to put them into “rehabilitation programs”.
And there’s the essence of the problem—in order to make his plan work the Justice Minister has to run roughshod over Lady Justice.
The Justice Minister’s “Solution”
Pause for a second to consider how the Justice Minister’s plan will work on the ground:
One: a shopkeeper catches a teenager with a tube of lipstick in her pocket and calls the police.
Two: a police officer shows up and needs to figure out whether the girl is an “offender”. This means that the officer must decide whether the girl is guilty of shoplifting and a decision normally made by a judge just fell into the hands of a police officer.
Three: the officer must determine whether this is the girl’s first or second “offence”. The only way to be sure that the girl isn’t lying about whether she’s ever done this before is to create a province-wide registry of teenagers who’ve been accused of shoplifting but who have not been charged by the police (no privacy concerns there).
Four: After the officer checks the yet-to-be-created registry and determines that this is the girl’s second offence he must decide whether to charge her or let her go.
Five: the girl knows that she might be able to sweet-talk the officer into letting her go and does whatever she thinks is necessary to make her case.
Six: if the girl talks the officer out of formally charging her with shoplifting the officer will trigger the rehabilitation process and force the girl to attend a rehabilitation program.
Seven: this is a “good result” because it “rehabilitates” the girl who knows that she has one more “free pass”.
Eight: the shopkeeper’s respect for Alberta’s judicial system knows no bounds (yeah, that was pushing it).
What’s really behind the “One Free Crime” plan?
The Wildrose argue the PCs are “soft on crime” but I have a more cynical view. The PCs are simply doing what they always do. They’re taking care of corporate Alberta at the expense of everyone else. Last week the doctors got it in the neck. This week it’s the criminal justice system.
The PCs have not set aside enough revenue in the provincial budget to pay for the police, prosecutors, courtrooms, administrators and judges, let alone construct the prisons required to handle a population that’s increasing by 100,000 a year.
So instead of living up to their Safe Communities promise which stated “It’s time to reinforce existing laws, introduce new ones to tackle pressing issues and make sure the courts are dealing with offenders quickly and appropriately” and developing a long term crime reduction and prevention strategy, the PCs have chosen to tear the criminal justice system apart by decriminalizing “offenses” (until they’ve been committed at least once before) and giving the police and bureaucrats the power to “convict” citizens and send them into rehabilitation.
Take another look at Justitia. Her gown is shredded, her scales are bent and her sword is broken. She’s hanging her head in shame. We must protect her. Please write to the Premier, the Justice Minister, the opposition party leaders and your MLA. Tell them that the One Free Crime plan is a travesty of justice and must be stopped.
*Global News Online Mar 12, 2013
**Keeping Communities Safe, Three year Progress Report 2008-2011, p 5