In the aftermath of tragic gun violence – the shootings at Toronto’s Eaton Centre in June, the deadly block-party in Scarborough last week, and several other Canadian incidents (not to mention the horrific theatre massacre in Denver) – many people are searching for solutions.
Given the angst and anger we all feel, it’s only natural for some to latch onto stiffer sentences as the answer. To be sure, both the letter of the law and the judgments of our Courts must deliver punishment that suits the crime, but genuine community safety requires more than just that.
A singular focus on sentencing is deficient for two reasons. First, when you’re talking about how severe to make the penalty, you’re already too late. The crime has been committed. Community safety has been violated. We need to get ahead of that curve.
Secondly, there is no compelling evidence that heavier penalties actually deter would-be criminals. They are not logical thinkers who weigh the fine points of sentencing. Appropriate penalties must be in place, but we shouldn’t kid ourselves that that alone will make society safer.
In September of last year, the Saskatchewan government announced a policy entitled “Building Partnerships to Reduce Crime”. It’s a useful plan with a multi-faceted, community-based approach.
Suppression (using the criminal law to deter crime) is just one of three pillars upon which this policy is based. The others are Intervention (working on things like substance abuse, education and employment to change behaviours) and Prevention (providing information, social supports and other activities to steer individuals-at-risk in productive directions).
In introducing the policy, Premier Wall cogently observed “…we won’t arrest our way out of this problem.”
The then-President of Saskatchewan’s Association of Police Chiefs and now-Deputy Minister of Corrections and Policing, Dale McFee said: “Police officers know, perhaps better than most, that crime suppression and law enforcement alone will never be enough and, moreover, should never be seen as the first course of action to address the circumstances that lead people into conflict with the law.”
In the heat and turmoil following recent tragedies, it’s crucial to ensure we’re focused on strategies that will actually make things better.