3. Firearm Control and the Justice System

3.3 Crisis in Criminal Justice

"Parole is needed to reduce sentences because if judges were wholly responsible for determining the exact length of incarceration they would tend to respond to public pressure by increasing sentences. Parole is thus a less visible administrative means of reducing punishment." [18].

Solicitor General's Office

Despite the fact that Canada's population is one-tenth that of the United States, our 1992 residential/commercial burglary and property crime rates were 33% and 25% higher, respectively, than our southern neighbours, and have remained consistantly higher than the US for over ten years [19]. Restrictive gun laws combined with an overloaded and essentially bankrupt criminal justice system in Canada work against deterring this type of criminal activity.

Every year the federal and provincial governments spend $1.9 billion on correctional services, $5.3 billion on police, $400 million on legal aid, and $760 million to maintain an overcrowded court system [20]. The ratio of criminal code offenses per police officer increased 155% between 1962-1991, with expenditures on police services increasing by 40% between 1986-1991 [21].

While the Canadian population increased by 28% between 1971-1991, the number of police officers in Canada increased by 41%; the number of security guards by 126% [22]. In 1991, Canada had almost as many police officers per 1,000 population as the United States [23].

Spending on correctional services hasn't kept pace with government spending in general. The total of all government expenditures experienced a growth of 30.4% between 1987-1988 and 1991-1992, while spending on corrections at both the federal and provincial levels increased by only 10.2% [24].

Over 75% of all convicted criminals in Canada will be released early under some form of "community supervision" precisely because our correctional services can't afford the $50,000 per year required to keep them jailed [25]. During 1991-1992, there were an average of 43 convicted offenders on "community supervision" for every probation/parole officer in Canada [26]. A 1988 federal government report described how parole supervisors employed by the Correctional Service of Canada were demoralized by heavy caseloads ranging from 80-100 offenders per parole officer [27]. With a ratio such as this it is virtually impossible to provide any effective "supervision" at all. On average, almost one-half of all offenders will be re-arrested for an indictable offense within three years of their release from jail [28].

"Moreover, probation may now give the appearance of doing something with offensers when, in reality, very little is being done" [29].

Justice Committee, Taking Responsibility

It is a cruel irony that after release these individuals often proceed to commit additional crimes which, in the long run, cost society far more. A study done by the Rand corporation for the U.S. Department of Justice found that convicted criminals out of jail commit over 187 crimes per year, costing society over 17 times their yearly cost of imprisonment.

The average sentence for a convicted property crime offender in Canada is now less than 54 days [30]. The median prison sentence for violent offenders in 59 days, and robbery convictions result in a median sentence of less than two years [31]. The average sentence for an offender in a federal penitentiary is only 3.6 years, and the majority of those who have not been paroled must, by law, be released to mandatory supervision after only two-thirds of their sentence has been served [32]. Violent offenders typically serve less than one-half of their original sentence [33].

Of 13,429 young offenders found guilty of violent offenses in 1992-1993, over 80% received sentences ammounting to only probation, open custody, or "community supervision" [34]. The cumulative effect of programs such as temporary absence, mandatory supervision, full and day parole, explain why less than 8% of all convicted criminals in Canada ever serve their full sentence [35].

One existing law could provide a fighting chance of reducing firearm-related violent crime. Section 85 of the Criminal Code of Canada provides for an extra sentence of up to 14 years, to be served consecutively, not concurrently, for the use of a firearm while committing or attempting to commit an indictable offence. Unfortunatley, it's almost never laid as a charge and almost always dropped during plea bargaining when it is.

The majority of recreational firearm owners are now firmly convinced that Canadian firearms laws are aimed at them, not real criminals. They are intelligent enough to notice that gun law violations virtually never appear as charges in court for serious crimes of violence involving firearms.

For all practical purposes the criminal justice system appears to have little deterrent effect. As a result, the violent crime rate in Canada has virtually exploded, growing faster than the United States and increasing 359% between 1962-1990 [36]. During the same period, the property crime rate in Canada increased 209% [37].

"Moreover, if one takes seriously the deterrent intent of punishment - and most advocates of stiffer penalties do - then what matters is the public perception of the severity of those penalties rather than their actual magnitude. The deceptive exaggeration of the penalties levied against criminals could thus be an effective tactic in the battle against crime. But this is at best an incidental benefit of misinformation rather than its intent. The simple fact is that nobody in the judicial or penal systems has any interest in improving the accuracy of the public's knowledge. Each little deception helps keep the heat off" [38].

Daly, Wilson, Homicide