Skip to main content

Politics Federal crime legislation casts ‘dark shadow’ on principles of justice, Ontario judge says

Ontario Court Justice Melvyn Green’s criticisms of federal justice policy add fuel to a simmering battle over mandatory minimum prison terms and harsh penal reforms.

KEVIN VAN PAASSEN/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

An Ontario judge has mounted an unusual attack on federal crime legislation, accusing the government of turning bedrock principles of criminal law upside down.

In an article written for a legal publication, Justice Melvyn Green of the Ontario Court of Justice said that sentencing reforms "have cast a dark shadow on the sentencing principles of proportionality and restraint."

A broad range of measures rooted in the desire to punish offenders are profoundly at odds with common law and a century of social science research into rehabilitation and recidivism, Justice Green said in the article, published in the spring edition of the Criminal Lawyers Association newsletter.

Story continues below advertisement

He said that the federal provisions are driven by "an ideology of unabashed Puritanism, marketed through fear-mongering and the invidious exploitation of communal differences."

A prominent member of the defence bar before his appointment in 2005, Justice Green is widely respected for his careful, erudite approach to judging. His statements add fuel to a simmering battle over a mounting list of mandatory minimum prison terms and harsh penal reforms.

CLA president Norman Boxall said in an interview that Justice Green has bravely stated a belief that is widely held by judges and lawyers who work in the busy criminal court system.

"The trend to longer sentences through the use of mandatory minimums and the elimination of conditional sentences is, in many cases, ill-advised and not supported either by research or common sense opinions held by judges and counsel who work in the Ontario Court of Justice on a daily basis," Mr. Boxall said.

In his article, Justice Green enumerated a swath of changes under the Conservative government that he said have set back the justice system. These include the dismantling of the conditional sentencing regime, the eradication of pardons, and virtually automatic deportation orders for those convicted of minor offences.

"Mandatory sentences have proliferated," Justice Green added. "Conditional sentencing is all but eliminated. Pre-sentence custody credit is tightly capped. Federal parole eligibility is delayed and circumscribed. ... A policy of punishment, incapacitation and stigmatization has replaced one premised on the prospect of rehabilitation, restoration and reform."

He said that, with 95 per cent of criminal cases now being decided by guilty pleas, every player in the justice system recognizes that sentencing lies at the core of what the court system does. Accordingly, he said, it is imperative that policies be crafted with care.

Story continues below advertisement

Justice Green also pointed out that, if punishment alone could make the community safer, the United States would be the safest place on the planet. Instead, he said, the brutalizing U.S. prison system disgorges hardened ex-convicts who feel they have no stake in their society.

Justice Green said that the federal reversal is particularly troubling in view of federal commissions that were struck in the 1970s and 1980s to arrive at sound sentencing policy. He said that the vice-chairman of one of the most enlightened of these – the Daubney commission – has since become justice minister: Rob Nicholson.

Mr. Nicholson's government has repudiated what the Daubney commission stood for, turning its back on the very careful, proportionate blend of punishment and restraint it espoused, he said.

"Draconian penalties will never address the rewiring and therapy necessary to make damaged persons, if not whole, then at least, productive and responsible participants in the community we share," Justice Green said.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • All comments will be reviewed by one or more moderators before being posted to the site. This should only take a few moments.
  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed. Commenters who repeatedly violate community guidelines may be suspended, causing them to temporarily lose their ability to engage with comments.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.
Cannabis pro newsletter