On October 24, 2013, the latest conservative “pile on the punishment law” came into effect. This law mandates victim fine surcharges on all people found guilty of a crime in Canada. In the past, victim surcharges were levied on an accused depending upon the accused’s ability to pay and the sentence being imposed. Judges were given the discretion to waive these surcharges depending on the facts of any given case.
The new law “Increasing Offenders Accountability for Victim’s Act” increases the surcharge from $50 to $100 for any summary offence and $100 to $200 for any indictable offence and if there is a fine imposed - 20% of that fine. This Act also eliminates the judge’s discretion to waive this surcharge; it must be paid in every case.
As with most of the Conservatives tough on crime policies this sells well. But in reality “if you do the crime you must pay!” doesn't work well at all.
Sentences should fit the crime. Whenever a government imposes a one size fits all idea to punishment, invariably it creates more problems than it solves. That is specifically why, in the past the judge was allowed to look at the circumstances of the crime, the totality of the sentence and the accused’s ability to pay in determining whether a surcharge should be imposed. For instance, if someone plead guilty to 10 counts of robbery and is sentenced to 15 years in jail, do we really need to impose a $2000 surcharge on this individual a decade from now when he's finally released and trying to start a new life. Another example would be a homeless mentally ill woman living on the street who steals a sandwich; does it make sense to fine her an additional $100 that she can’t afford and can’t pay, on top of the probation she would receive? Taking away the judge’s discretion was not only a stupid thing to do; it was also mean and petty.
If this government truly cared about helping victims of crime they would promote restorative justice programs that help victims heal, confront their offenders and their fears and create fair, effective, reasonable sentences. Most importantly, the government could invest in programs that deal with the actual causes of crime, such as poverty and lack of youth programs, rather than simply creating bigger sticks to hit people accused of crimes.
The reality is this type of legislation is not designed to make criminals pay nor to help victims heal. This legislation is solely designed to make the Conservatives look tough on crime in hopes that will convince you to vote for them in the next election.
Shawn Swarts is a lawyer at the law firm of Cobb & Jones LLP. Should you have any questions for Ask A Lawyer, please direct them to the Simcoe Reformer or ask a lawyer of your choice. For more articles, visit the Library page at www.cobbjones.ca.