Sunday, January 31, 2010
Canadian Justice and the 'Faint Hope' clause
The National Post's Full Comment podcast had a post back in October about the section 745.6 of the criminal code, better known as the 'Faint Hope' clause.
The clause allows prisoners who have been sentenced to life in prison and are not eligible to apply for parole for a period greater than 15 years the chance to apply for parole after only 15 years. In short, the clause exists to allow the possibility of shortening the period of parole ineligibility.
However, parole is not automatically granted simply because an offender is eligible. The function of a parole board is to determine if an offender should be granted parole. This leads me to wonder what function the faint hope clause serves other than to add another layer of bureaucracy and complexity to the parole system. The clause seems to be little more than an "except in this scenario" add-on to the law. It serves no function other than to act as an added step for parole applications after 15 years in prison.
Consider the case of a man convicted of first degree murder. It is of no value to say that he cannot apply for parole until he has served 25 years because this simply is not true. He might not be be able to apply for parole until he has served 25 years. At the time of his sentence, no one knows when he will be able to apply for parole.
The clause was added when we (correctly) abolished the death penalty. I suspect that the clause was created solely because politicians were not willing to try to convince the public that 15 year parole eligibility for murderers was a good thing.
I find it almost self-evident then that the faint hope clause should be abolished so that stated parole eligibility will accurate reflect when a prisoner may apply for parole. If parole for some prisoners makes sense after only 15 years, then the law should be changed so that they may be given sentences that permit this in the first place.
Friday, January 29, 2010
The Supreme Court and the Omar Khadr issue
The Globe and Mail reports on the supreme court's recent ruling on the Omar Khadr case.
I reread my old post on Omar Khadr and while I still think as I did then, I think that there's more to say.
Firstly, I can see good points both for and against the court's intrusion into foreign policy. Foreign policy is correctly the domain of the federal government. Courts are not elected bodies and should not typically have any voice in foreign policy. At the same time however, the whole point of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is to place restrictions on the power of government over citizens. And Omar Khard IS a citizen. In retrospect, it's obvious that his parents should never have been allowed to immigrate to our country, much less be made citizens, but Omar Khadr was born in Toronto and he is a citizen.
So while I appreciate that the federal government should be the sole determiner of foreign policy, the court does have a legitimate interest in this case.
But there's an elephant in the room. The federal government does not want to bring Khadr back to Canada because they believe that the Canadian justice system cannot deal with him appropriately; and I think the reason they have not been forced by public opinion to act is that many Canadians agree with them. To put it another way, the federal government thinks that the standards of a Canadian court room are not appropriate for a traitor to our country. They believe, (and they may well be right), that the court will decide that the evidence against Khadr was improperly obtained and release him entirely, even if that evidence shows that he should be convicted. As they don't believe that Canada can deal with Khadr appropriately, they choose have the Americans deal with him instead.
But even assuming that the government is correct, letting the Americans deal with him isn't a solution. It's a refusal to deal with a larger problem because it's a difficult one.
So on to the larger problem. It is likely that most of the evidence against Khadr was improperly obtained according to the standards of a Canadian court. But let us assume, (although we should never do this in any court), that he is guilty of treason and murder. Should he walk free?
Perhaps it's easier to consider that question apart from his case. What if a Canadian murders a someone in Canada, (and he really did), but the evidence that proves this was improperly obtained by the police? Should a murderer walk free because of the misdeeds of the police? I don't think he should. I think he should be punished for his crime, and the police should be punished separately for their misdeeds. (I am obviously assuming that the evidence is not false or planted, but rather was only illegally obtained as in the case of an illegal wiretap or physical evidence obtained after a cross examination where the accused was denied an attorney.) In such a case, the evidence still proves the guilt of the accused and he should not walk free to punish the police for violating the law. This would not be justice.
Whether such a scenario is likely with Mr. Khadr, there is a widespread perception that it is.
We give convicted felons "double credit" for time served awaiting trial. Why is this? If they are guilty, should they not serve their full sentence? If the crown unnecessarily lengthens the trial of a man who is proven innocent, does a reduced for sentence for a different and actually guilty man somehow reduce the harm done to the wrongly accused?
And we dismiss evidence that is tainted not by falsehood, by only by police actions not related to the truth of that evidence.
Is this justice?
Is it things like this that make much of the public largely accept or ignore the Canadian governments refusal to insist on Canadian standards of justice for a traitor? If we trusted Canadian standards of justice would we have any problem with applying them to Omar Khadr?
I think this is ultimately a larger problem than the entire Khadr family.
Saturday, January 23, 2010
Trinity Western University attacked over academic freedom
A friend of mine sent me a link to this article today.
It seems that the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT), which I had not heard of before today, doesn't believe that Trinity Western University (TWU) has academic freedom for it's professors. Furthermore, CAUT thinks that the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC) should "rethink TWU's membership". Now that's rather chilling for academic freedom isn't it?
A brief tangent before I get started, are there any S.M. Stirling fans out here who almost read that acronym as CUT? Funny that CAUT would make me think of a cult that I read about in a novel. (And I'm also surprised to learn that Stirling didn't invent it for his novels.)
Anyway, back to the real CAUT and TWU.
It seems that the basis of CAUT's argument is that a university can't put Christian beliefs first. But by extension, this means that according to CAUT, you cannot have a Christian University because Christian beliefs ARE that Christian beliefs come first. One almost wonders if CAUT would accept the idea of a Christian academic who put his Christian beliefs first.
And of course there hasn't been a single complaint against TWU over academic freedom. This is little more than a drive-by smearing. Not that TWU isn't correct to take this very seriously. TWU is an excellent university, but attacks like this can damage an otherwise stellar reputation.
CAUT claims to support academic freedom. And yet they would use their influence to marginalize voices that they don't agree with.