Thank you very much. I am greatly appreciative of the invitation to appear before this committee. I consider it quite an honour.
I'm a criminologist. I've been doing that at the University of the Fraser Valley in excess of 20 years.
I would like to speak to the issue of organized crime in the context that organized-crime-specific initiatives are really contingent on some fundamental shifts in the way we do criminal justice in this country. I had the benefit of looking at the previous testimony of other witnesses, and much time was allotted to discuss specific pieces of impending legislation and law enforcement initiatives, and I applaud those. But I do believe that without some fundamental rethinking of the approach to criminal justice, any results are going to be limited.
I'll discuss this in three areas.
The first one—and I'm quite troubled by it—is that there is almost a resignation that we should accept and tolerate this particular level of crime. Time and time again we hear commentators who have just accessed the latest Statistics Canada data and they wave it around and tell us, “See? Crime is down.” That is often used to challenge this government's initiatives to bring forward legislation. They'll say, “Well, we don't need to change sentencing practices; we don't need to change bail issues, because crime is on a decline.”
The people who say that are all starting from the high points in the 1970s and 1980s when crime had nowhere to go but down. Crime went through the roof during that time period and now it's hovering around the ceiling. Many of us are wishing we could get it down to the area where it was in the early 1960s, down in the basement. Almost no commentators that I can identify will talk about the crime rate in comparison to where it was in the early 1960s. It is considerably higher, particularly for violent offences.
I think this should be disturbing, because we're under this illusion that somehow crime is dropping and obviously everything is fine or there's no need for dramatic reform. I would say, yes, it has decreased somewhat, but it's nowhere near where it once was.
What troubles me about that is there's this acceptance that it's normal. In other areas of public policy we strive for zero tolerance. One could argue that there's much less hostility today towards gays and lesbians than there was 20 years ago, there's much less overt racism today than 20 years ago, but no one is saying that means we shouldn't be advocating for policy in this area, that we shouldn't be pursuing education and more diversity initiatives. We're trying to get it even lower still.
I think it's very odd that somehow when it comes to drug dealers, when it comes to violent offenders, we're saying, “Well, it has come down considerably from the 1970s or 1980s, so what we're doing now is obviously working and there's no need to pursue these new initiatives.”
So I ask that statistics be taken in the context not of where we were in the 1980s, but where we were in the early 1960s. I believe the information started to be collected in 1962, and we're nowhere near those levels. That's the first issue I would bring forward.
The second one, related to that, is to address this mantra that punishment doesn't work, that tough sentences don't work. One of the difficulties is that very rarely do people who say these things operationalize their terminology: What does one mean by “works” or “doesn't work”? Punishment clearly does work. It's one of the most fundamental principles in human behaviour and psychology. The dynamic of punishment and reward is universal. It's used to raise children. It's used by employers. We use it everywhere. So the notion of just dismissing extended sentences in response to offenders because somehow punishment doesn't work really doesn't pass the test. Punishment takes offenders off the street. It takes them out of circulation. When they're doing time, they're not doing crime.
We have people with 40, 50, or 60 convictions getting community supervision and going out and committing more offences. I would say that denying those people an opportunity to reoffend does work. Similarly, enhanced sentences speak to the denunciation of the criminal act, another objective of sentencing. They bring a sense of closure. They bring a sense of justice to victims and to the community, another objective of sentencing.
When people say that punishment doesn't work, what they're usually saying is that it doesn't deter. The research is mixed on that. We have different evidence that it does or does not deter, depending on the offence and the offender. Even if it does not deter, I don't think that's a reason to categorically dismiss the concept of enhanced sentences.
Because of the way the statistics are presented, they show that crime is on the decline, giving confidence and ammunition to those who say there's no need to even look at enhanced sentences and there's no need to even look at adjusting parole, because crime is on the decline. Again, the extent to which we are actually seeing a decline in crime is debatable. Maybe the aggregate data does suggest that, but when we look at drug crime, which is not included in the data for the most part, and when we look at violence among young offenders, it's not going down, it's going through the roof, and that should cause us to be disturbed.
The notion that somehow addressing the issue of punishment is a wasted exercise because it doesn't work is usually held out because somehow it doesn't deter. People don't discipline their child to set an example for the neighbour's kid. They do so because it's seen as a response to the behaviour. I think we've gotten away from the fundamental concept of just basic human behaviour in the application of a punishment.
The third thing I would bring up is the dialogue around this issue. The statistics are used in a fashion to categorically dismiss legitimate debate, legitimate discussion, and dialogue. When initiatives have been suggested or legislation proposed, the words I have heard coming from commentators, academics, and such have been “draconian” or “barbaric” or things like “oh, you want to create an American justice system, and you want to do as the Americans do”. Nothing the government has proposed is anywhere remotely close to what goes on in the United States. There's no “three strikes and you're out”. There's no life without parole. There are a couple of incidents of mandatory minimums that have nothing to do with the concept as it's used south of the border. I think that toxicity poisons the debate. It really calls into question the legitimacy of the dialogue around what is actually happening in crime.
Statistically we have some disturbing information in front of us, particularly with regard to gun-related crime or youth violence and the amount of transnational crime or international crime for which Canada is used as a stopping point, which doesn't factor in to the typical crime rate. This stuff is devastating communities, and it's not really showing up in the discussion. There's a limited amount of material that comes out of the uniform crime reports and Statistics Canada victimization reports. I don't think it's responsible to jump on this, as we have been doing, and proclaim that this is sound evidence that we don't need reforms or we don't need new initiatives.
I would argue that what we've been doing hasn't been working. Given the changes over the last several decades, the crime rate should be a fraction of what it is. We have the smallest proportion of young people that we've ever had in this country.
We have enhanced technology, 911, paramedics, and cellphones that are increasing response time. To keep the crime rate slightly below where it once was I don't think is adequate, given all the resources we have at our disposal that weren't there in an earlier period.
Thank you so much.