Stockwell Day on home invasions: more from his news conference [UPDATED] -

Stockwell Day on home invasions: more from his news conference [UPDATED]

There’s nothing in the data to shore up Day’s version of reality


Stockwell Day has come under what has to be unwelcome scrutiny over his remarks yesterday about how unreported crime justifies spending billions on new prisons. I guess that’s to provide cells in which to lock up the unreported criminals. The upside is that crowding shouldn’t be an issue.

Day is Treasury Board President now, but used to be Public Safety minister, which might explain his willingness to hold forth on law-and-order issues. In the same eventful news conference, he offered a rather dramatic justification for the government’s push to make sure more convicted criminals serve long terms behind bars. This quote is a bit shambling, but here’s a chunk of what he said:

“We’re really concerned about serious, repeat, violent crime; about the fact that these type of criminals through other administrations, certainly under the Liberal administration—for instance, crimes like arson, crimes like home invasion with aggravated assault, which has to be one of the most grievous types of crimes you can think of, people’s houses being broken into and people, in many cases, senior citizens, being grievously assaulted—previously there were too many cases when those were addressed with what’s called conditional sentencing. That means the criminals in that case get sent home. They don’t have to go to jail. That is not a deterrent. So we’re going to continue to look at serious violent crime and having serious and mandatory jail terms there.”

I understood him to say that thugs who invaded the homes of senior citizens and assaulted them have often been let off without going to prison. At least, that was how it was back when the Liberals ruled. Could this possibly be true? I went looking for information on sentencing in home invasion cases. I found an informative ruling from the Ontario Court of Appeal, handed down on Dec. 8, 2006, which discusses the matter in detail.

The appeal court had been asked to reduce the eight-year sentence imposed by a lower court on a man named Wade Wright, one of five armed robbers who broke into a Richmond Hill, Ont. home in 2004, and terrorized the family inside. Wright’s lawyers argued that eight years was at the stiff end of the customary five- to eight-year range for convictions involving home invasion, and too long in their client’s case.

But the appeal judge, Justice Robert Blair, noted that while five to eight years had once been the normal range, courts across Canada had by then moved toward longer sentences. Blair cited home invasion convictions in which the sentences were 10, 12 and 13 years, and quoted judges, stretching back to a key 1996 ruling, expressing outrage at criminals who violate the sanctity of the home.

Not surprisingly, politicians in that period had picked up on the same public anger over home invasions that was being echoed from the bench. In 2002, the Liberal government of the time amended the Criminal Code to explicitly make home invasion, which isn’t a separate offence, an aggravating factor that judges would have to take into account when they were handing down sentences for related crimes like unlawful confinement, robbery, extortion, and breaking and entering.

So by the time the Conservatives took office in 2006, the courts had been seized by the seriousness of home invasions for at least a decade, and were sending offenders to jail for longer. And, in Ottawa, the government had changed the law to make sure those harsher sentences were imposed as a matter of course.

Have there been exceptions of the sort Day described—old people beaten in their own homes, and yet their assailants let off with conditional sentences? I’m not sure how that could happen.  For one thing, conditional sentences—in which the criminal serves time in the community under supervision and court-ordered restrictions—are only allowed when imprisonment would have been less than two years. But sentences in home invasion convictions, as we’ve seen, seem to be much longer than that.

I’ve asked Day’s office, and the offices of the Justice and Public Safety ministers, to provide material supporting his statement yesterday. So far, they have only passed along the broad Statistics Canada data on criminal courts, which shows that 4.4 per cent of adult criminal convictions result in conditional sentences. There’s nothing in the data that I can see, though, to shore up Day’s version of reality.

I’m left to conclude that, in fact, lengthy prison sentences have long been the standard punishment for those convicted of crimes that involve home invasion. Judges and the previous government took note of society’s natural outrage over this kind of crime, and acted accordingly. What Day said looks to be an unfounded attempt to exploit public outrage over crime in general, and the fears of senior citizens over having thugs break into their homes in particular.


A couple of points for anyone interested in delving further.

1. If you’re interested in the stats for the sorts of sentences handed down, you might want to look at this recent Statistics Canada report, Adult criminal court statistics 2008-2009. (I clicked on “full article in pdf.”) The table on page 29, “Guilty cases by type of sentence, adult criminal court, Canada, 2008-2009,” is the place to start for info on conditional sentences. For the basic definitions (including the important limits on when conditional sentences are allowed) check out the definitions section that starts on page 21 of the pdf version.

2. I’m sorry that I’ve been unable to find an online source to link to for the Court of Appeal for Ontario case I refer to above. For those more adept at searching out legal documents, it’s Her Majesty the Queen and Wade Wright, Dec. 8, 2006. But here’s a long quote that might be of interest from Justice Blair’s decision, where he talks about the range of sentencing, starting at a low of four or five years, in home invasion cases:

The cases to which we have been referred, and which my own research has uncovered, reflect a gamut of sentencing dispositions in “home invasion” cases from as low as four or five years, to as high as eleven to thirteen years – with the suggestion that even higher sentences may be reserved for situations involving kidnapping, the infliction of serious injuries, sexual assault or death. Whether a “range” of that elasticity is of much assistance to trial judges in their efforts to preserve sentencing parity for similar offences involving similar offenders – apart from signalling that a significant penitentiary jail term is generally called for – is not clear to me.  The downside of attempting to articulate a range for a type of crime that can manifest itself in such a wide variety of ways, and be committed by such a wide variety of individuals, is that the “range” becomes so broad, it is virtually meaningless.  Nonetheless, to the extent there can be said to be a range in home invasion cases, it would appear that the one that currently exists is the expansive one outlined above.

In my view, however, “home invasion” cases call for a particularly nuanced approach to sentencing.  They require a careful examination of the circumstances of the particular case in question, of the nature and severity of the criminal acts perpetrated in the course of the home invasion, and of the situation of the individual offender.  Whether a case falls within the existing guidelines or range – or, indeed, whether it may be one of those exceptional cases that falls outside the range and results in a moving of the yardsticks – will depend upon the results of such an examination.  I agree with the British Columbia Court of Appeal in A.J.C. (at para. 29), however, that in cases of this nature the objectives of protection of the public, general deterrence and denunciation should be given priority, although of course the prospects of the offender’s rehabilitation and the other factors pertaining to sentencing must also be considered.  Certainly, a stiff penitentiary sentence is generally called for.


Stockwell Day on home invasions: more from his news conference [UPDATED]

  1. This is why we have to get rid of Statistics Canada. How are politicians supposed to ply their trade if the citizenry are constantly comparing their public pronouncements to reality???

    • I'm all for taking a swing at Day (which John appears to have done admirably here) but can we please stop with this? No one is "getting rid of Statistics Canada". And crime statistics aren't based on information collected from the long form census. Maybe you're being cute, which is fine, but on the assumption you're being serious, can you explain how this makes sense?

      • I never said we were getting rid of Stats Canada, I'm saying this is precisely why we SHOULD get rid of Stats Canada.

        I also refuse to explain how anything I say makes sense until someone can find me a federal Cabinet Minister who makes any sense whatsoever.

        THAT said, I'm all for keeping Stats Canada if we also replace the CABINET with drunk monkeys.

        • Right, so you were being cute. Fair enough. And your personal policy regarding only explaining how your comments make sense on condition that a federal Cabinet Minister does likewise strikes me as sinking to the lowest common denominator, but that's your call. :)

          • It's true, I should hold myself to a higher standard. :-)

          • I couldn't agree more Olaf, what if we all sank to the level of current federal Cabinet Ministers? We must retain certain standards during this dark period. Let's not let them drag us down.

        • I thought the Cabinet is already full of drunk monkeys. Or maybe sober monkeys. But monkeys nonetheless.

          • Such an insult to monkeys.

          • And drunks.

      • "I'm all for taking a swing at Day (which John appears to have done admirably here) but can we please stop with this? No one is "getting rid of Statistics Canada".

        Of course not. There's no need to be rid of StatsCan when you can do just as much damage by just corrupting the data it puts out. While I do believe that a good number of Harperites aren't too bright, I don't believe Harper to be an idiot. He knows that pressing on with this voluntary census will affect the quality of the data.

        We are now down to the wire. If this new policy isn't reversed in time to save the 2011 census, that data will be permanently corrupted. Even if Harper is voted out of office and the next govt recinds this nonsense, it will be too late. We will be stuck with a data gap covering a 5 year span.

        The very fact that he insists on pursuing this says it all. It's either that or he's really an idiot who doesn't know better.

        • Yes; it's either the Harper hidden agenda or stupid and arrogant Harper.

          Meanwhile a fine blogger makes the connection between Day's medieval thought and his invisible crimes and Malory, Philip K. Dick and The Crucible:

          "…We saw this logic in practice in Toronto. Invisible laws, invisible crimes. Real people, in real cages, with real beatings…"

        • Harper knows exactlly what he wants to achieve by pursuing the census reform, and it is exactly as you state, that if it goes through we will at the very least be 'stuck with a data gap covering a 5 year span'.

        • Mr. Harper's trying to rewrite history by erasing it. Aren't the conservatives trying to do this in Texas, too?

          A pre-emptive strike against invisible crime is not fiscally conservative.

      • I am amazed that that video has 24,000 views in the last 3 days. That has got to be one of the highest ranking Canadian politics videos on youtube!

  2. They sent back Statscan data?? LOLOL

  3. You all hate the troops. Seriously. Stop the hate.

  4. Excellent reporting. That's the sort of thing we want to see. Thanks very much.

    • Agreed. For some reason, this government feels the need to embellish the evidence for their arguments to the point where they're flat out lying. I'm sympathetic to many of their crime initiatives (broadly speaking), but when they start lying to prove a point, we part company.

      • Also agreed. Reporting as it should be done. If only certain political reporters and columnists at the Globe – I'm looking at you, Jane Taber and Christie Blatchford – could employ even an ounce of Geddes research and critical thinking skills, we'd be in far better shape, and might even have a government thank thinks twice about lying to our faces.

  5. See, this is what we are talking about. The Lamestream Media going around, checking facts, and getting in the way of Government speculation.

    Mr. Geddes is clearly aiming for a Liberal Senate seat. For shame.

  6. I find it outrageous that a Liberal government passed legislation that would lead to longer prison sentences. Not only are prison terms totally ineffective in reducing crime but it's a total waste of money. How much did the Liberals "tough on crime" agenda cost the taxpayers? When will the Liberal Party stop copying all of the Republicans failed crime policies?

    • I actually think that's a fair point. Minus me up, folks!

      • I plussed you. Partly because I agree, partly because you told me not to and I'm totally a rebel, but mostly to give myself an excuse to use "plus" as a verb.

        • This exchange has left me nonplussed.

          • That was doubleplusgood!

    • – See, I have this thing where whenever Liberals do something that Conserv–

      Oh, I get it. It's very clever.

      – Ah, thank you.

      How's that working out for you?

      – What?

      Being clever.

      • I think the point is that when the Liberals do something, it's unobjectionable. But when the Conservatives do the exact same thing, we're immediately one short hop to tyranny, fascism, fiscal collapse, theocracy, Stalinism, or any other sort of ground-shaking "this is not the Canada I remember!" calamity you can imagine.

        • Uh, Olaf dear, you do realize that the "tough on crime" part we lib/lefties (or is that left/libbies?) object to is the spending of billions of dollars WE DON'T HAVE to build prisons WE DON'T NEED, right?

          I, for one, am very much in favour of increasing the jail time for those in a position of authority who abuse children, as an example. Like, increasing it from none to at least a few years in jail. Okay, I'd want more than ten, but at this point I'd take six months! I would use the prison cells currently inhabited by those caught growing a few marijuana plants. Major grow-ops excepted, of course.

          I know, I know, this is more nuanced than Conservatives (if you're not with us, you're against us) like to deal with.

          • would use the prison cells currently inhabited by those caught growing a few marijuana plants. Major grow-ops excepted, of course.

            As a digression, I'm curious how many prison cells are currently occupied in this country by those convicted of growing "a few marijuana plants" (i.e. very small-scale growing). Anyone have stats?

          • The best I could do, so far, was this from StatsCan:

            "More than one-half (53%) of admissions to federal custody were for violent offences, particularly robbery and various levels of assault; property crimes accounted for 18% and drug-related offences accounted for 17%."

            That is 17% "drug-related offences" of 7,700 individuals newly incarcerated federally. How many of those are a few marijuana plants I have no idea. This is from 2000/01, BTW.

            I'm really quite surprised that drugs as a whole don't account for more prisoners. Of course, many of those robbery charges would have been so people could sell something to get drugs, but still.

          • I work in the field and marijuana possession is regularly treated as an offence worthy of diversion (meaning, you go and do some charity work or make a donation, and then the charge is withdrawn). Producing marijuana is different because it's rarely ever the case that someone was growing one plant and the police busted them. They crack grow-ops because often the person producing is circumventing hydro in an apartment they are not occupying and neighbours become aware of the smell. Even then, people who commit drug-related offences are often granted bail. If there's a firearm involved, it's a whole different story — as it should be. Even crack addicts bypass bail and are just released on the spot with an appearance notice (ticket to appear in court).____This isn't the United States — the average jail sentence served by someone who commits first degree murder is only 7 years. That, as well as pedo offences, are things that are absolutely shameful to behold. Canada needs to toughen up on some crimes, but most drug offences are as loose as they should be.

          • Uh, Olaf dear, you do realize that the "tough on crime" part we lib/lefties (or is that left/libbies?) object to is the spending of billions of dollars WE DON'T HAVE to build prisons WE DON'T NEED, right?

            Yes, the lib/lefties are all about fiscal austerity, whatever the cost. And if we don't have the money, why isn't anyone suggesting shorter sentences, fewer crimes, and fewer prisons? Would you care to suggest why you think our current sentencing levels, and our current number of prisons, is the optimal level, that perfectly balances our fiscal capacity with all of the objectives for putting people in prison, along with prisoners' rights to live in habitable circumstances?

            So, if we just can't afford it, would you have no problem letting serious and repeated sexual offenders serve a mere year in prison? Would Martin and Chretien have been justified in halfing the sentences of murderers during their lean years, to help balance the books? If not, why not? In short, I think that the left's newfound obsession with fiscal austerity (no where to be heard from during the stimulus debate, but somehow popping up all of a sudden), is disingenuous. Everyone suddenly cares about balancing the books when you propose a policy they don't like.

          • The Liberals did not shorten sentences, necessarily, rather they gave out more non-prison sentences. That said, crime did not explode after they did so, and has probably decreased. Despite the hassle Day got in that other post, he is right – many crimes do go unreported (and yes, there is data on this through the general social survey).

            And it isn't as if the 90's and early 2000's occurred in a vacuum. The economy probably has a larger impact on crime rates than sentencing.

          • And if we don't have the money, why isn't anyone suggesting shorter sentences, fewer crimes, and fewer prisons?

            I am, though not for financial reasons. And I'd hold out on closing prisons until the current ones are a lot less crowded. But I'm all for shorter sentences and (far) fewer crimes.

            I may be the only one, but I do exist.

          • Hi. Missed this.

            As I've said repeatedly on these boards, I have a real problem with the sentences for sexual offenders, particularly those in a position of authority who abuse children. And so (especially because the number of marijuana growing inmates seems much lower than I thought) perhaps another prison (as in one) is something we should be building. Too bad its too late for stimulus funding. Its a shame they didn't think of that earlier (but they did) and use some of the money set aside for infrastructure improvements on such infrastructure improvement.

            Instead, we are somehow looking at 13 billion dollars. I don't need a prison made out of marble and other high-end building materials–although plenty of concrete and steel is a good thing. I don't see how it gets such a hefty pricetag just for the building of the thing. But, I haven't looked at all at the breakdown of that 13 billion, I've just heard that as the price.

            See, this is why Liberals are centrists. Because we've always cared about fiscal prudence.

          • In short, we don't NEED more prisons, if you think they're currently not overcrowded and understaffed (which many experts would disagree with), and if you think that more serious sentences in certain areas are unwarranted. In which case, you should argue why they're unwarranted.

            And we don't HAVE the money, only if you think that the objectives of the policy are wrong or unimportant. We HAVE the money for a lot of things that I would argue we don't NEED, the way we NEED water, food, and shelter, but we somehow find the cash. It's a question of balancing funds, and setting priorities. It's not like all of a sudden we're going to shut down health transfers, or equalization payments, or human rights commissions, or foreign aid, or our military, or the Senate, because we don't HAVE the money. We HAVE it, we just need to decide what to spend it on.

            Both of your criticisms are premised on the assumption that the proposed reforms are ill-advised. Which is fair enough. But make that argument then, dear. :)

          • In general I support your argument that there is some hyprocisy at play. There is and you are right to call some Liberals out on it.

            My frustration with this government is the fals/fabricated/twisted evidence they use as rationale — not the policies per se.

            I wish they would just say "we want the bastards to rot longer and we're willing to spend $10 billion of your money to do it" — which seems to be what they mean. Then we could debate that.

        • Maybe the all-too-clever point was that even the LPC is not immune to the promulgation of an all-too-political response to the imagined outcry of the populace for a rigorous regime of retributive justice. Therefore shoring up their 'tough-on-crime' bona fides.

          Or the poster may have been gesticulating at hypocrisy, Which ably demonstrates that sarcasm needs to be marked with little thingies indicating such. Which totally bums the snark

        • There is a huge difference between making something an aggravating factor in sentencing (which leaves discretion with the judges), and forcing minimum sentences no matter what the circumstances of the offence.

          That huge difference would be the latter will require much, much more money from taxpayers. The former still respects the discretion of the person in the best position to determine the sentence, but also is good politics – without costing tax payers.

        • We're waiting for any evidence that the Conservatives are doing "the exact same thing" and not doing things much worse. Aggravating factors in sentencing are not mandatory minimums. The former leaves flexibility for the judge based on the circumstances, the latter does not, unless the mandatory minimum is set so low that it makes no difference in any event.

          • Aggravating factors in sentencing are not mandatory minimums

            No, they're not, but to the extent that judges want to uphold the law, they should lead to higher sentences. And if you're all about flexibility for judges based on the circumstances, would you promote removing maximum sentences?

            For some reason I've only heard the "we need judicial discretion" argument used when someone tries to establish a minimum penalty, but it's never used against maximum penalties.

          • And if you're all about flexibility for judges based on the circumstances, would you promote removing maximum sentences?

            A though provoking question. I would guess that the reason for this would be so that people can't get sentenced to losing hands for stealing.

    • People who are genuinely soft on crime, as I am, have been pointing out for years that the Conservatives' stock charges that the opposition parties are soft on crime are, sadly, nonsense.

    • Feelings? Nothing more than feelings?

      Pre-crime is up. And the plaid unicorns are lovely this time of year. We must address the former so real Canadians can enjoy the latter.

      Anybody have a gut sense that this government is seriously rucked up?

      • 'Pre-crime'…..LOL I love that.

        Stock's version of the Thought Police no doubt.

      • Pre-crime…. LOL!


    • That is an interesting position for you to take, considering that you A. didn't consult the data yourself and B. that the data supports some of what Day has been saying.

      1. Reporting rates are declining:… (see page 17)
      2. Violent criminals ARE given conditional sentencing, including 2,767 criminals guilty of crimes against the person (and that does not include data from Quebec).

      • If you're talking to me, no data supports Stock, so don't even go there.

        • I provided links to data that supports what Day is saying. If the sin of Conservatives is to act without facts, then the sin of Liberals is to assume that the facts support them without checking. It sounds like data doesn't matter that much for you either – unless it supports your preformed opinions.

      • 1) So – people are not reporting crimes out of fear of increased insurance costs – not sure what more prisons will do with that.
        2) The %s of conditional sentences are relatively small compared to the % of those that result in custody (prison). The way that the "tough on crime" crowd go on and on about this one would think that the %s were much much higher.

        Off the top of my head, I can think of numerous situations as to why a judge, while sentencing, would look to alternates to prison.

        "A 19 year old, straight high 90's student if out with his friends at a bar. He has no past criminal record, and is looking forward to staring his pre-med program at Queens University. After a few rounds of beer, he builds up his liquid courage, and decides to call out another guy in the bar who has been making eyes at his long-time girl-friend. They head out to the parking lot to rumble, he stikes the other guy, breaking his nose. The bouncer on duty calls the police, they show up and charge him with assult. It goes to trail, the teenager is found guilty of aggravated assault………do you really think that he should be sent to prison, or should the judge have alternate forms of sentencing at his disposal.?"

      • Are those 2,767 you quoted Offenders, or Offences? It is worth noting that the 2,767 conditional sentences for crimes against a person is 5.5% of the dispositions.

        • It says guilty cases, so that may be offences. That said, I'm not sure that it makes sense to combine conditional sentencing with jail. Presumably the one is meant to be a substitute for the other. And if we are talking about large numbers of repeat offenders who get two charges in a year, I am not sure that is a strong point for the rehabilitative effects of conditional sentencing.

  7. There you go again messing things up with all these "facts". Who am I going to trust? Your facts or Stockwell Day's gut? COME ON!

  8. It was convenient that Justice Minister Rob Nicholson was able to announce today that the Conservative government has quietly boosted police powers to target gambling, drug trafficking and prostitution activities by organized criminal gangs.

    • Operation Round Up The Small Fish. Way to go Rob.

    • Wow. This vendetta against Rahim and Helena never ends, does it?

    • I am glad that he did announce more measures to help the police combat crime.Why in the hell would anyoone not want this?Unless you are a criminal.

      • Indeed! We should triple the budget — maybe quintuple it! How can anyone be opposed to these additional measures???

        Also I suggest we add a million firefighters to Canada's firefighting brigades. More firefighters = a good thing.

  9. Professor Pliny Hayes, Chair of the Department of Natural Sciences at Red Deer College, reported that Mr. Day said in a speech at the college that there is scientific proof that the world is about 6,000 years old and that early man co-existed with dinosaurs. He is a wing nut like the balance of Harper's creationist cabinet. A treasury board president that believes in the Flintstones is pretty scary.

    • Claiming science backs up his religious beliefs, and Statscan backs up his gut….Stock sinks slowly into the La Brea tar pits….

  10. Thank you for this serious reporting!

  11. Excellent fact checking, thank you.

  12. This is kind of scary.

    Maybe I'm too young to fully recount previous administrations, but it deeply perturbs me that such an important minister could just lie about statistics/facts in such a bald-faced manner. I've seen ministers "massage" data into their message, but I think this is revealing a trend.

    I wonder… if a journalist was to go back and look at issues as discussed by Conservatives vs their correlating statistics and the like… I wonder what they'd find?

    • Look, son/miss. You want to examine…the past? This government only moves forward. In a Forward Action Plan®. There's no time for reflection, especially of the numerical sort, Not right now. And especially not in the future. Which is assuredly bright!

      Real Canadians® can smell the truth. Through their guts. It smells like prison. Once you figure that out, you'll be okay.

      • that's a bad sign for the truth, because I can assure you that a max security prison smells really REALLY bad.

    • 1. There are still thousands of violent criminals who are sentenced with conditional sentencing – including some that committed homicide.
      2. As for Liberal lies… of the top of my head:
      -The Liberals hid massive cost overruns on the gun registry
      -Paul Martin hosted an environmental conference in which he bashed the US record, while not mentioning the fact that Canadian emissions were up 25% since he took office
      -The Liberals regularly kept two sets of books on the deficit, so they could have larger than expected surpluses to play around with for pet projects
      -The Liberals broke a number of promises – including axing the GST, renegotiating NAFTA and universal child-care (the limited program begun towards the end was hardly universal)
      -Didn't do their homework on the Sea King issue, costing Canada thousands of jobs
      -And then there's Adscam

      • Adscam! Because when you're losing the argument, Adscam! brings you right back in.


        • 1. How am I losing the argument. I have provided data that directly refutes the claims of the other side.
          2. Are you saying that Adscam is not a legitimate case of government dishonesty and lies?

          Like Stockwell Day, you are cherry-picking facts and reality because you want to make sure everything conforms to your establish world-view. I realize Conservative politicians tend not to argue on the basis of reason. This has made people like you intellectually lazy.

      • So Liberals' past lies justify Conservatives' fudging? Seriously, let's hold these guys to a higher standard.

        (By the way, consumption taxes like the GST are a major source of government revenue that, if held constant, would have gone a long way to reducing our current deficits.)

        And yes, there are some violent criminals who receive conditional sentencing. By my reading, many receive conditional sentencing at least in part because they get 2-for-1 credit in pretrial time served.

        • When did I say that? I was responding to a direct challenge that somebody couldn't remember a government that was as dishonest as the Tories. I agree that many of the Liberal lies worked out in the end. I don't even think Adscam was a big deal, but the point is that the Liberals weren't all that honest.

          • the point is that the Liberals weren't all that honest

            Agreed. But then, I think the Conservative Party gets more flak simply because they ran on the platform of accountability and transparency. The entire reason they were elected was because the electorate wanted a change, not more of the same nonsense.

  13. The Conservatives have been in power for over four years! These references to times when the Liberals were in power are dated. What exactly have they accomplished in four years that is superior in terms of tackling crime than what the liberals accomplished before them.

    If crime is such a huge issue in Canada why does it rarely get attention at a municipal and provincial level?

    • If crime is such a huge issue in Canada why does it rarely get attention at a municipal and provincial level?

      Over to you, Olaf…. ;)

      • Does it not? Are there not debates about the level of police presence that is required? About what preventative measures should be put in place? Homeless shelters and affordable housing? Other social welfare policies that are meant to 'get to the root' of crime? The types of things that the provinces and municipalities actually have jurisdiction over? What else would you have them pay attention to that they don't already?

        The long and the short of it is that the federal government sets the criminal code and sentencing provisions (mins and maxes), and the Supreme Court and other Courts of Appeal generally set the sentencing guidelines (or at least the outer bounds beyond which is unacceptably harsh), and municipal and provincial politicians have no say over the acceptable range of sentencing that the judges decide upon.

        In short, I really don't understand this argument, but I'm open to the possibility that that is my own fault.

        • But, why is it that I am getting the uncomfortable feeling that the present government is making decisions based on reading entrails, tea leaves, and wisps of fog and smoke? They really do appear to be afraid of real facts and data.

          How do you debate a group of people that make stuff up as they go along?

          • You can't debate them. This is why the committees are so dysfunctional. All you can do is call them out on it.

          • But, why is it that I am getting the uncomfortable feeling that the present government is making decisions based on reading entrails, tea leaves, and wisps of fog and smoke?

            How should I know why it is that you're getting a feeling? And if you want to debate someone, specifically my comment that you responded to, I can assure you I don't make up stuff as I go along.*

            * Note: I have been known to make things up beforehand however so… caveat lector.

  14. What Day said looks to be an unfounded attempt to exploit public outrage over crime in general….

    Oh, those cheeky Cons. What will they think of next?

    • Trying to get a tea party movement going.

      • Done and done. The CPC's anti-coalition rallies gave us a spontaneous Tea Party avant la lettre.

        And a good thing, too. You can't have duly elected Members of Parliament getting together and forming a government. That kind of thing can only lead to fascism.

  15. The Conservative Party of Canada: we're not just wrong, we're pointedly, specifically, demonstrably wrong.

    • On purpose. Are we getting close to sociopathy?

    • At least previous governments had the common courtesy to fudge the numbers and make ambiguous claims such that they couldn't be proven pointedly, specifically, demonstrably wrong. Ahhhh, those were the days.

      • At least previous governments had the common courtesy to fudge the numbers….

        More to the point, at least previous governments had some numbers.

        Now, we get projections and analyses based on the angle of Neptune's entry into Sagittarius.

        • That's the thing, it would have been SO easy (were there such an example, which I'm sure the justice department could have found within minutes) to say "for example, Geraldine Q. Canuck, 108 years old of Portage La Prairie, had her home invaded on July 1 2005 (Canada Day and her birthday!). She was assaulted, her prized teapot collection was stolen, her cat was raped – and the convicted criminal was sentenced a trip to a day spa". Or whatever. I mean, there are some outrageously lenient sentences that crop up once in a while, and he certainly could have at least appealled to emotional, anecdotal evidence. It would have been nauseating and misleading, but at least not plain wrong.

  16. Excellent post. Too bad it only shows up in in the blog-backwaters of CDN politics.

    When a minister lies so blatantly (esp. when it is in defense of misguided policy) it should be front page headlines. But alas, the swing voters are asleep and very vulnerable to this rhetoric when the media is co-opted.

    These noodniks are going to pull this off (building and filling new prisons, killing all good gov't such as the census) – just like the prorogation battle ended in Iggy whimpers as he caved on the detainee issue and left Harper with a giant Cheshire-cat-smile.

    • When a minister lies so blatantly (esp. when it is in defense of misguided policy) it should be front page headlines.

      Heh. You want virtually every ministerial press release to be front-page news?

    • Check out National Newswatch today. Even some of the Sun & Canwest journalists are stymied by this government's reasoning regarding the census and building of more prisons.

  17. Good reporting.

    This issue and the census fiasco have successfully taken the G.8/G20 over spending off the front pages.

    • So now that money can be laundered for building prisons!

      • Hmm, the need for BIG security at the G20; the need for BIG prison systems. This sounds like the Republicans; there's huge corporate greed and conflicts of interest surrounding this in the US. I wonder if the Cons have friends in the security industry here in Canada?

        • Perhaps some other on-duty journalist could dig into the people who are behind privatized prisons in Canada, and see which party they are supporting. See who the presidents, CEO, important big-wigs are and if they are donating to a cause. Every Canadian has a right to donate and support their political cause of choice. But most of us aren't expecting any single-sourced monopoly to be handed to us on a silver handcuff.

          • Yes, this would be a good investigative journalism topic. John Geddes and Paul Wells would be up for the task! Are you guys paying attention here at MacLeans?

    • The rioteers made the overspending an unissue.

  18. The Conservative approach these days is to yell their version of "truth" loudly and repeatedly and hope that people believe it.

    Unfortunately, those pesky journalists, and those inconvenient facts from Statistics Canada, keep getting in the way. Darn them!

    • And the approach of others, including those pesky journalists, is insufficient fact-checking.

      -742 people convicted of breaking and entering were given conditional sentences
      -1,114 people convicted of major assault were given similar sentences
      -Even 2 people convicted of homicide were given conditional sentences

      Was the case Day used misleading? Sure. But Geddes seriously understates the prevalence of conditional sentencing.

  19. How about this:

    Day claims that people guilty of home invasion could get conditional sentencing. Here is the % getting CS by crime (I didn't do all of the crimes, just some highlights)
    Crimes against the person in general: 5.5% (about 2700 cases)
    Homicide: 1.6%
    Major assault: 9.4%
    Sexual Assault: 15.2%
    Crimes against property: 5.8%
    B&E: 9% (I assume home invasion is B&E)
    Drug Trafficking: 31.9% (this was the most common one)

    So, again, conditional sentencing is used in a minority of crimes, but some of them are fairly serious, violent crimes.

    This data is a bit more dated, but it also has more information, such as what the conditions are, and more detailed breakdowns:

  20. 1,190 for all people convicted of drug possession (separate from trafficking) in 2008/9. I am inclined to believe that very few of these were taken in for marijuana possession. That represents 14.7% of those convicted for the crime.

    • Based on these numbers, what's the likelihood that a Canadian who is caught doing nothing more harmful than "growing a few marijuana plants" will end up in prison?

      • I can't figure that out from the numbers – but the mean sentence for drug possession is 19 days. So even if all 1,190 were marijuana users, we are talking about 62 prisoner-years worth of jailtime (ie. so something like 62 cells freed up).

      • If I were to hazard a (not so random) guess: They're the ones who would probably receive the conditional sentences, if they co-operated with police in targeting larger dealers and traffickers.

  21. John Geddes, why are you taking Stock Day seriously? When has the real-world reality ever been the same as "Day's version of reality?"

  22. B and E can occur on any property and not specifically a person's home. Just another example of how this current government thinks it's smarter than the majority of us Canadians. Perhaps people who slander the capacity of our judges should go spend some time in a court room and listen to the facts presented to our judges and juries. My real concern of late is how people in positions of authority appear to be treated too fairly in our legal system when they are charged with criminal offenses. I would love to see some stats on cops who do not get convicted of the serious charges they face. For example, shooting people in the back, taking bribes and killing people at airports don't register convictions if you are a cop it appears.

  23. I feel like it would be piling on to make any sort of comment at this point.

    • Yes Stock, as usual, is drowned by reality.

      I'd feel sorry for him except he's such an ignorant POS.

  24. Also useful to know (from page 15)

    % Breaching Conditional Sentence, by crime (in Alberta)
    Serious violent offenses: 29%
    Sexual offences: 12.2%
    Common assault: 28.9%
    Robbery: 39.1%
    B&E: 40.7%
    Traffic offences: 17.6%
    Drug offences: 22.1%

    Average: 25%

    • I'll contextualize that somewhat by noting that conditional breaches can be based on things entirely different from the crime of which the individual was first convicted – drug posession, DUI, leaving the jurisdiction, associating with other felons, etc, could reasonably all be a breach of conditions for someone given a conditional sentence.

    • I believe that 'home invasions', as the term is normally used, are those B&Es that take place when the residents are at home, and when the accused knows (or should know) that they're there. So where a B&E can be a teenager getting up to no good, or the hamburglar, a 'home invasion' is forcible entry into someones home in the knowledge that they are there. It is rarely done merely for the purpose of theft, as you'd probably prefer the residents aren't at home when you're stealing things. They get all uppity about it.

      • Not quite. A home invasion involves a robbery, which includes the threat or use of violence. A break and enter does not have to involve violence, even if people are home.

        • A home invasion can involve robbery or not. I think my definition stands "a 'home invasion' is forcible entry into someones home in the knowledge that they are there".

          Although no formal definition presently exists, a ‘home invasion' is generally thought to
          be different from a break and enter in that there is premeditated confrontation with the
          victim with the intent to rob and/or inflict violence on the occupants of the household.


  25. Let us keep slinging stones, unwaveringly, until the giant philistine inevitably falls.

    The people shall slay the reformers.

  26. Excellent article. Please follow it up with more facts, and efforts to get Mr. Day to provide data supporting his claims.

  27. Prediction: almost nobody will read our posts. They will instead add posts castigating Day for ignoring the facts.

    • Or they'll do both: read our posts and then continue to castigate Day.

      We'll know based on how many thumb-downs we get; the thumbs thing is useful in that regard.

    • Now you're playing the victim card?

      Just write Adscam! a few more times.

      • You are right, I'm the one who is failing to contribute to the debate by reciting talking points. You have won me over with your incredibly compelling argument. Let me review.

        -The majority of crimes in Canada may well be unreported, and the rate has gone from over 40% to 34% since 1988. However, on the other hand, Stockwell Day wore a wetsuit. Advantage Kaplan.
        -Stockwell Day emphasized that many violent crimes (perhaps thousands, maybe even more than 2,700) result in conditional sentences. On the other hand, he thinks the Flintstones are a reality show, so you win again.
        -Stockwell Day also said that the Liberals were soft on crime – possibly because they significantly increased non-prison sentences to over half of the total, or because they retained low median sentences. On the other hand, are you going to trust a guy with a murse? I don't think so.

        So, I apologize for disagreeing with you. I bow to your absolutely stunning intellect. Excelsior, Kaplan, excelsior.

  28. I thought your stats came from 1997-98 (altho stats typically predate their release) so where you come off with 'decade of Liberal rule' and not 'a long period of Conservative and Liberal governments' is uncannily loaded.
    And Day presented a statement with no data, no factual information to support his statement. I think Geddes' did some initial digging and got one load of evidence to support one approach to Day's statement, and you have brought other info to the forefront. If there's anything I know about data, however, it is that it can be entirely superficially loaded to present a case. What it requires is some digesting, and more data. Continue.

    • Geddes is making an argument based on a single case, where it does appear that Day was misleading. Gaunilon is using actual statistics. If you want to compare the present to the end of the Liberal reign, here is the 2004/5 data. Conditional sentencing was at 9% then (versus 4% now), and remands had become more common than custody….

  29. So the government is planning on spending billions of dollars on new prisons because about 1100 people convicted of violent crime were given conditional sentences? (I'm assuming that most B&E crimes are non-violent.)

    Even if all 1100 of these people deserved to be put in jail – which I'm not entirely certain is true – you don't need billions of dollars' worth of new prisons to hold them.

    • Over 2700 are given conditional sentences. A much larger chunk get relatively lax probation terms (conditional sentencing is only one type of non-jail sentence). The median sentence for assault is 1 year. So yes, if you give out harsher sentences, eliminate conditional sentencing, and make it harder to get parole you need more prisons. Is it worth the cost? That's a debate I'd like to have – but it seems Stockwell Day's credibility is the debate everybody else would rather have.

  30. (3) It is abundantly clear that this was ridiculously common (45% for sexual assault??) in the late nineties, after a decade of Liberal rule, but is much less common now.

    The Progressive Conservatives were in power from 1983 to 1993. So, by the late nineties, the Liberals had been in power for six years at most.

    Were sentences tougher when Brian Mulroney was in power, only to become more lax under Chretien? Do you have evidence to support this? Or are you just trying to spread the "Liberals are soft on crime" meme?

    • There was a dramatic increase in non-prison sentences under the Liberals that essentially took off in 1995 (when the Liberals brought in conditional sentencing and similar measures). See page 6:… .

      These measures did reduce costs significantly (and may have been justified by budgetary concerns), but it would be fair to say that the Chretien government was "soft on crime" relative to Harper or Mulroney (that may not even be a bad thing). And I would suspect that most Canadians would find the median sentences given out to be at least somewhat troubling. The median time served in jail for homicide is less than 6 years. For sexual assault it is less than 1 year.
      See page 18:

      • These measures did reduce costs significantly (and may have been justified by budgetary concerns), but it would be fair to say that the Chretien government was "soft on crime" relative to Harper or Mulroney (that may not even be a bad thing). And I would suspect that most Canadians would find the median sentences given out to be at least somewhat troubling.

        It's reasonable to wonder whether sentences are too lenient in certain situations. It's also reasonable to take into account the real need to ensure that justice has been served.

        A rational, balanced discussion of crime would cover the following issues (which you have mentioned in your post):

        – Does increasing prison sentences provide a social good? Does it make Canada safer, or a more just place?

        – If extra money is spent on the prison system, does the positive benefit (if any) of this increase outweigh the social costs of cutting spending elsewhere? In particular, if social spending is cut to pay for these new prisons, does that increase the likelihood that disadvantaged people who lack opportunities elsewhere will turn to crime?

        Unfortunately, the Conservative government is not promoting a reasonable, balanced discussion of the crime issue. Instead, they're treating crime as a stick to beat the Liberals with, and they are introducing new measures without thinking about the potential costs or social consequences of their actions. Sadly, this is standard operating procedure for the Conservatives.

        • Agreed!

          It's sad that they can't be pragmatic about anything. Every step of the way, it's a political attack or posturing.

    • "The Progressive Conservatives were in power from 1983 to 1993. So, by the late nineties, the Liberals had been in power for six years at most. "

      Correct – my bad for writing this up at 1 in the morning. Half a decade, not a decade.

  31. Thanks for this, Guanilon & H2H. My problem was Day's statement here: crimes like home invasion with aggravated assault, which has to be one of the most grievous types of crimes you can think of, people's houses being broken into and people, in many cases, senior citizens, being grievously assaulted….

    Aggravated assault, on its own, is a rather serious crime, as Day points out. It's an assault that "wounds, maims, disfigures or endangers the life of the complainant". It carries a maximum prison sentence of 14 years, on its own (incidentally, it has the same maximum sentence as "torture"). I'm not an expert (in anything really), but I do pay rather close attention to the justice system, and the idea that aggravated assault plus home invasion of the type Day describes often resulted in conditional sentences doesn't ring true, and at the very least is something that needs to be backed up (as you call for yourself).

    • Yes, fair enough regarding Day – he should back it up or take it back. Hopefully a journalist – one without an axe to grind – will get on that.

      I'd point out two things:
      (a) according to H2H's stats, almost 1 in ten of such major assault convictions resulted in no jail time as of 2009. In 1998, more than half did. Granted, we don't know how many (or whether any) were coupled with home invasion.
      (b) If what you say is true that "torture" carries a maximum of 14 years in jail, then this in and of itself is revolting.

      • If what I say is true? How dare you impugn my credibility:

        269.1 (1) Every official, or every person acting at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of an official, who inflicts torture on any other person is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years.

        However, I can't really think of an example of torture that wouldn't also include aggravated assault, forcible confinement, and a host of other charges, so I doubt you'd see many torturers walking after 14 years. You know, unless they had a really good reason to torture someone, which should of course be taken into account.

        • "However, I can't really think of an example of torture that wouldn't also include aggravated assault, forcible confinement, and a host of other charges…

          I can, at least in the hypothetical. You just need cases where the victim is already confined and where the abuser doesn't leave major wounds on the victim. An Abu Ghraib situation, for example. Or an old-age home where one of the caregivers is a sadist. Or a prison-guard victimizing prisoners. Or a hospital nurse victimizing patients. Etc.

          • Right enough. My imagination rarely functions at a high level.

  32. Hopefully John can/will post an addendum to address Guanilon's and H2H's concerns and rather convincing statistical data. Admittedly, he's no Minister of the Crown, but it would be nice for him to be accountable to his loyal readership.

    • Percentages completely devoid of any context whatsoever, for one randomly chosen calendar year, is not necessarily "convincing statistical data". It's important to see, and worth discussing, but it's hardly some home run. How many of those non-prison sentences were in convictions that came as a result of a plea bargain that likely would have been out and out acquittals had they gone to trial? Were any of those convictions later expunged when it turned out the convict was actually innocent (in which case, thank God we didn't send him or her to jail!). As I said, the statistics are noteworthy, and definitely contribute to the debate, but I'm not so sure they're "rather convincing". For all I know, no jail time was an entirely appropriate response to the context of those cases 99.9% of the time.

      • As I said, the statistics are noteworthy, and definitely contribute to the debate, but I'm not so sure they're "rather convincing"

        Admittedly, as I've pointed out elsewhere, they're not rather convincing towards proving the claim that home invasions coupled with aggravated assault routinely result in conditional sentences. Day should back it up or retract. And on the narrow claim that home invasions coupled with aggravated assault don't (ever? sometimes? often?) lead to conditional sentences, Geddes may be right, or he may not. I don't know. But the point that very serious crimes often result in conditional sentences, as I think H2Hs & Guanilons stats indicate, and the claim that the situation was much worse during Chretien's reign, deserve to be considered, and may lead one to think that a conditional sentence for a home invasion isn't an outrageous possibility.

        • "…the claim that the situation was much worse during Chretien's reign, deserve to be considered,"

          Perhaps you might want to reconsider the phrase "much worse", that's adding a value judgement that may not be warranted. Unless of course you think that conditional sentencing is always a bad idea (but I get the impression that you don't).

          • No, I don't think it's always a bad idea, and you're right. Macleans is no place for value judgements! Banish the thought! :)

            But yea, 'much more frequent' would have been a more objective statement. But then should I define 'much more'? Much more on what scale? Oh, forget it.

  33. Does this data tell us anything about how many of these sentences were based on convictions with very little evidence? I mean, I do think it's possible that many of these sentences were handed out as a result of plea bargains in cases where the crown decided they'd rather have a conviction with no jail time than an outright acquittal based on the paucity of evidence. I'm not sure these numbers really tell us much on their own without any context. I do wonder how many of those convicts who didn't get prison sentences were actually innocent, for example.

    Also, nowhere in your post is there a mention of the number of people convicted of invading the home of a senior citizen and assaulting them, and getting no jail time.

    • There are two issues here:
      (1) Day's larger point, that the Liberals were soft on "serious, repeat violent" crime and that the CPC is trying to fix that, and
      (2) the examples of arson and home invasions with assault sometimes getting conditional sentencing.

      The data posted above don't tell us anything about (2), since it isn't explicitly broken out of B&E or the various forms of assault.

      The data do tell us something about (1). They're not conclusive (e.g. no breakdown in terms of repeat offenders, and it is possible that the Liberals cleaned up their act by 2006 – I checked for 2005 data but it wasn't as well laid out so I couldn't do the same analysis) but they do at least suggest that Day may be right about his main point since it's clear that in 1998 those convicted of serious violent crime often met with no jail time, and in 2009 they still did in some cases but far less frequently. If I had the time and was paid for this sort of thing I'd have put together a year-by-year plot to show exactly how this trend varied with respect to party rather than taking just two year-points. That would be an interesting and informative article.

      A good piece of journalism would address the main point (with stats) and then address the examples (with facts). A hit-piece of journalism would ignore the main point if it looks unfavorable and tackle just one of the examples based on where the statement seems weakest. Which do you think Geddes did?

  34. Whither our Pied Pipers of Political Polling (Jarrid and wilson) this morn?

    • Withered?

  35. Excellent data-checking and analysis, Gaunilon and Hosertohoosier!!!

  36. 1. They asked how many people based their non-reporting on insurance concerns. It was not particularly high.
    2. True enough, but conditional sentencing is only one part of the puzzle (and lets be clear – Geddes is implying that violent crimes never get conditional sentences). Light sentences (crimes like assault result in a median prison sentence of 1 year), lax probation and plea bargains are other elements by which somebody could argue that Canada is soft on crime.

  37. I appreciate the effort and thought put into your work, G.

    I am curious, though, can we conclude then that there are no situations where an Offender was found guilty of multiple charges, but not sentenced for some as the 'bigger' charge would result in a significant sentence? Is that even a practice?

    I should look at the Courts' websites, but there's also work. Stupid work.

  38. The tragedy of this long form 'debate' is only how statist the Canadian mindset is, and how many fall at the feet of government at the first eyelash batted.

    The irony of this long-form 'debate' is that the 'Conservatives' have grown government larger and faster than any government in the history of the nation, with attendant tax increases (CPP/EI/HST) and selective pension plan bailouts (see: Nationalization; Auto Makers).

    The CPC knows the average Canadian, and their attention span, very well I guess.


    Mr. Geddes is right. Courts take home invasion very, very seriously.

    Vis à vis the absence, if not contempt, by the Conservtive government for fact-based, evidence-driven policy initiatives, responding to a question by the same committee on October 08, 2009, discussing Bill C-15, a proposed law to increase drug sentences, Minister Nicholson said:

    We are not guided by statistics, which they always say can prove anything, senator. We are guided by our conversations and engagement with law enforcement agencies and different groups that make representations to the Government of Canada; by our discussions with provincial attorneys general; and by our discussions with our voters during elections as to what they want.**(p. 16)

    P. S. The best free site for researching law in Canada, including Ontario Court of Appeal decisions, is CANLII


    * *

  40. If one looks South, they are realizing that something has to be done about over capacity prison institutions and building new ones is not the answer. They find that multi-faceted rehabilitation programs work and keep the offender out of jail.
    Most criminals are incarcerated due to drug charges and therein lies the problem. It is a well known fact that this only results in repeat offending and returning to prison due to the "education" one acquires there with no significant rehabilitation. The costs to keep a person in prison are far higher than fixing the problem.

    What I got out of Day's statement was he polled people who did not report crimes because they knew the jails were full. The "If you build them, they will come" idealology is ridiculous.