the day that the Harper government rolled out a bill creating a new
Criminal Code offence in Canada, I received a broken-hearted lament for
a son forever lost.
I applaud the government for getting tough on the idiots who
turn our city streets into drag racing strips, yet that e-mail from
Paulette Moffitt gave me pause:
"Just received news from Nancy L. Stableforth, deputy
commissioner of Correctional Service of Canada stating that the case
management team submitted a recommendation for statutory release of
Henry Danninger. We LOST -- we let ANDY down again. There is no justice
system. It is a system for helping killers get away with murder."
Paulette's son, Andy, was stabbed to death by Danninger. The
killer received five years for that crime but will in all likelihood
walk free in August after serving just three years behind bars. It's
called statutory release and it is a crying shame that it is still on
Andy was trying to stop a fight when Henry Danninger snuffed
out his life. It was a little like Cactus, who was knifed to death
under the shadow of the Chateau Laurier, for objecting to someone
urinating on the ground where the street kid and his friends slept.
Each victim in his own way was trying to do the right thing. If justice
for Cactus looks anything like what justice for Andy turned out to be,
will it be justice at all?
The answer of course is no. Sentencing, and how our parole and
prison system subverts it, is not just a Canadian problem. While it is
hard to find a single jurisdiction outside of Quebec where the
political leaders don't present themselves as tough on crime, the fact
is we have had, at least up until now, neither the stomach nor the
money to make the bad guys do serious time.
In the U.S., financially strapped governors have actually
ordered the release of dangerous felons because their states simply
couldn't afford to keep them locked up.
In the U.K. it is the same story: For every sentence the court
of appeal increased in the past year, it reduced 22 others for being
Although the average prison sentence handed down for serious
offences has gone up, many U.K. prisoners have been released under Tony
Blair's regime after serving less than half of their sentences.
In some cases, the leniency has been almost criminal. Although
the number of life sentences in the U.K. more than doubled in 2005,
Blair freed 53 so-called "lifers" after serving just six years in
prison. Why? Because Britain's prison system is overloaded with felons
and no one wants to build new prisons.
And by that circuitous route, back to the question at hand: The
tough, new Tory bill that could put a killer in jail for life whose
murder weapon is a racing car, or in lesser cases, prohibit him from
ever holding a license again. It is a long way from becoming law, but
it certainly must look good on paper to Canadians who are sick and
tired of seeing the vicious and vacuous walk away from serious crime
But the fact is, neither this new law, (should it pass), nor
any other one-off the federal government might bring forward will have
any chance of being what it seems unless there are fundamental reforms
of how we handle crime and punishment in this country.
Andy Moffitt's killer is set to walk out of prison this summer
because a law that makes convicts automatically eligible for parole
after serving two-thirds of their sentences is still on the books. Is
there a single parent out there who sees that as justice?
And is there anyone out there who thinks many life sentences or
lifetime driving suspensions for street racing will be handed down by
our courts and supported by our parole and prison system?
Justice Minister Vic Toews and his fellow minister Stockwell
Day have campaigned on the promise of bringing real reform to our
justice and public safety system, including ending sentence discounts
for criminals and building new prisons if that's what it takes to deal
That, despite this welcome bill to fight street racing, is where the rubber really hits the road.