What it takes to right a wrong

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Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time. Add to that, don’t do it if you can’t pay amends afterward.

Many people feel that people convicted of a crime in Canada often get off too easily. That common observation has been at the heart of the federal Conservatives’ approach to get tougher with sentences.

Justice Minister Peter MacKay apparently has some convincing to do on the matter of seeing that sentences are appropriate. Recent reports have shown that a number of judges in various parts of the country have in some cases refused to order criminals to pay a new, mandatory victim surcharge, or have found ways to make it impossible for authorities to collect the fee.

They’ve said the surcharge places an unfair burden on people who don’t have the means to pay. In response, MacKay has said he’s optimistic the judges will ultimately see the wisdom of the measure, which also serves as a means to see that victims get proper help, such as counselling or other services.

It’s part of the Conservatives tough-on-crime agenda. Before this, judges had the leeway of waiving the surcharge if he or she felt it would cause undue hardship for the convicted person.

With the waiver option removed, and the amounts increased, the new law requires a 30 per cent surcharge on a fine, or a flat fee of $100 or $200, depending on the seriousness of the crime, when no fine is levied.

That isn’t an astronomical amount. Consider it a slight increase in the fine. If it’s a matter of time, and the convicted person needing to find the employment to take care of the matter, that could be taken into consideration. But letting the person off the hook out of fear the punishment would be too onerous is absurd.

Redressing crime needs to be far more practical, with an emphasis on the wrongdoer reaching an understanding of the harm inflicted on the victim. Paying a token amount toward damages or to help the victim is a suitable part of righting a wrong. 

Organizations: Conservatives

Geographic location: Canada

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