A proposal that would see police officers ticketing people suspected of committing minor offences, rather than arresting them and laying charges, is an eminently sensible way of reducing police and court costs. The idea stems from an earlier pitch by the Canadian Association of Police Chiefs to allow officers to ticket people caught with a small amount of cannabis – something that this newspaper supported wholeheartedly. Instead of arresting someone carrying a joint, officers could issue a ticket with a fine. The suspect would not get a record, and police would avoid the time and cost of arresting and processing a person over a minor, non-violent offence. (And an offence that many Canadians think should be no crime at all.)
Police departments and Ottawa are now talking about giving the same ticket treatment to summary offences such as soliciting prostitution, trespassing, disorderly conduct, public nudity and vagrancy. A summary offence is less serious than an indictable one; people convicted face a maximum of six months in prison and and up to a $5,000 fine, or both.
Police would like to have the discretion of treating those suspected of a minor offence the way they currently handle speeding drivers. Police could issue them a ticket on the spot or – as they do now – hand them a summons to appear in court, or, if necessary, arrest them.
If the accused chose to pay the fine, the result would be considerably reduced costs for the court system, for the police (arresting officers generally have to appear in court) and for the offender, who would avoid having to pay a lawyer throughout a lengthy a court proceeding. Still, the proposal needs careful study. Is there any danger that tickets would be issued too often and too easily? Would some innocent people quietly pay the ticket, despite their innocence, for fear of the cost and embarrassment of a criminal-court appearance? How would Crown prosecutors treat people who chose to challenge a charge in court, rather than paying the fine?
The potential pitfalls have to be considered, but the idea is promising. Any proposal that can reduce the cost of the justice system deserves serious consideration.