Saturday, January 04, 2014

And now a special announcement from your federal Minister of Justice The Honourable Peter 'Helicopter Pete' McKay ..... are you listening judiciary?

No excuse for judges who ignore victim surcharge

There has been some misguided commentary recently surrounding the new mandatory victim surcharge.

This modest fine was implemented in 1989, to help our nation’s victims of crime with the $100-billion annual price tag of crime in Canada — 70 per cent of which victims tragically end up paying for themselves.

There is no excuse for judges disregarding the law — it degrades the judiciary and undermines public confidence and the very justice system they are sworn to serve.

Judges who flout the law and ignore the victim surcharge are not making a political statement, but rather they are revictimizing and mocking victims. It’s a slap to an already bruised face. This surcharge has become law as a means to hold criminals accountable — not only to society, but to the victims themselves. How many stitches, hours of therapy, property destruction, and lost wages do victims need to endure before they qualify for a judge’s compassion?

Some judges have even boasted about having completely ignored the victim surcharge for years. That is disgraceful, and an insult to all victims and those working to support them.

Some commentators are trying to paint the option of criminals being asked to sell property in order to pay the victim surcharge, as inappropriate. For quite some time, this has been among the options available to judges faced with those claiming the inability to pay. For those completely destitute and unable to pay, there is the option of small instalments of $5 or $10 over time — or sometimes community service as a substitute.

The victim surcharge is but a very small fraction of the cost of any crime, and it is not unfair to ask criminals to help repay their victims and society for the harm done.

Setting aside a few dollars a week for the victim surcharge or requesting community service from a criminal is not cruel punishment and it shouldn’t be unusual either. Imagine the victims reading the argument against offenders having to pay such a small indemnity for their crime. Or picture the offenders taking pleasure in the plight of the many arguing — and perhaps only for the sake of political defiance — that priority should be placed on whether an offender can pay. We make offenders pay with their time; they should also pay to help with the damage their broken victims bear without choice.

The Liberal road to justice led to inadequate sentences, violent criminals out on the street or getting house arrest, and shattered public confidence. This called for justice reform. Our government has brought in much needed corrections, protections and funding — including $120 million to victims’ programs and over $10 million for child advocacy centres.

Our government has been categorical: The justice system is going to be centered on the protection of society and the redress of victims. Our government will transform the justice system so that it is no longer centered on the welfare of criminals. Any perceived loophole in the victim surcharge law that seems to give clearance to judges to ignore the will of Parliament will be addressed.

Peter MacKay is minister of justice and attorney general of Canada.

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