(This column was published in the North Shore News on Aug. 25, 2004)
Conditional sentences 'a fraud'
By Leo Knight
MUCH has been written in this space on the incredibly ineffective tendency by the courts in this land to impose conditional sentences for all but the most egregious violent offences.
But, for all the ink spilled, a Crown prosecutor in Essex County, Ont., last week summed it up in a sentencing hearing for yet another young man found guilty of criminal negligence causing death and four additional counts of criminal negligence causing injury in relation to reckless driving.
Casey Wilcock, 20, was found guilty on May 28 in a Windsor, Ont., court in connection with a violent, fatal, high-speed car crash. His lawyer, Andrew Bradie, asked the court to impose a conditional sentence on his client.
But wait, instead of allowing a bobblehead judge shirking his duty to the Canadian people yet again, Crown prosecutor Walter Costa had had enough. In his rebuttal submission to Justice Gordon Thomson, Costa called a spade a shovel.
"Conditional sentencing is nothing but a fraud perpetrated by the Parliament of Canada," said Costa in his submission.
"The public should make a point of getting these fraudulent rascals voted out of Parliament," he added.
Well, yes, but the remarks came two months after the people of Ontario ensured the "rascals" were again given the chance to get their hands on the levers of power. But, nonetheless, his remarks hit the proverbial nail on its Liberal head.
Conditional sentences were foisted upon the unsuspecting people of Canada in the mid-'90s by the federal government of Jean Chretien. The Liberals then set about perpetrating the big lie upon the populace to ensure the country stood mute in the face of this fraud.
When they brought in legislation to allow conditional sentences - non-custodial sentences amounting to little more than unsupervised "house arrest" - we were told this was to be for so-called "non-violent" offences. Were that were true, it might stand up to criticism, but only to a point.
But the reality is that conditional sentences are being used in all manner of criminal cases save and except for the most egregious violations of the Criminal Code. A home invasion or a car jacking - exceptionally violent crimes to say the least - get plea bargained down to breaking and entering or theft, they become "non-violent" crimes and therefore subject to conditional sentences, circumstances apparently notwithstanding.
The "big lie" in this country is that we incarcerate more people per capita than any other western democracy except for the United States. We don't. Anyone in Canada sentenced by the courts to a conditional sentence, a suspended sentence or other type of non-custodial sentence is deemed to be "in custody." Well, as prosecutor Walter Costa says, "It's a fraud."
But, unlike all too many times when beleaguered prosecutors try to stem the rising tide of judicial indifference, the judge in this case, Mr. Justice Thomson, agreed with the prosecutor. He asked defence counsel Andrew Bradie, "If the term has no teeth, what's the point?"
What's the point indeed?
As the learned judge noted, "it is basically the luck of the draw" when offenders on a conditional sentence are caught breaching the court imposed conditions. And right he is.
He then said, "I've yet to be satisfied in Essex County that it's (the conditional sentence) worth the paper it's written on."
Well, the judge is absolutely correct. Only it is not just in Essex County, Ont., that that is the case. It is in every jurisdiction in this country.
Bradie, sensing one was about to slip through his fingers, soldiered on. "For him to be disentitled to a conditional sentence because of a lack of resources in the community would be unfair," said the defence lawyer. In other words, just because the system doesn't work is no reason my guy should actually have to pay for his crimes.
The newly reconstituted, albeit smaller, Liberal government is about to reconvene in Ottawa. The government has spent $50,000 to run their new throne speech through a focus group to test their catchphrases. They could have saved our money and listened to a lowly Essex County prosecutor to figure out one significant thing they could do to make a positive difference.
But they won't.