Less justice for all

There are changes coming to federal crime laws that are going to hamper legitimate protest and make our legal system less just. We thought we'd throw them out there for your information because it's almost certain they will come into law.

There are changes coming to federal crime laws that are going to hamper legitimate protest and make our legal system less just.

We thought we’d throw them out there for your information because it’s almost certain they will come into law.

So, if you’re thinking of standing up to the government, or a nasty corporation, you better think twice, because the ramifications are about to get a lot more serious.

Imagine, for a moment, that you are 80-year-old Betty Krawzyck.

You might not remember Betty, but in 2006 she was part of a peaceful blockade of a Weyerhaeuser-owned logging road on Eagleridge Bluffs.

In fact, she’s been a feisty environmental activist since 1994, when she first opposed logging in Clayoquot Sound.

Since then, she’s spent 34 months and 10 days in the hoosegow, two months and 10 days for the Eagleridge Bluffs protest. (In 2008, she published a book, Open Living Confidential: From Inside the Joint).

She’s an activist. One of many who actually stand up for her vision of civil society. She’s so committed, in fact, that she’s willing to go to prison for it.

And, thanks to new federal legislation, she’s probably going to spend a lot more time behind bars in the future.

Tweaks to the Criminal Code through the Identification of Criminals Act and the Truth in Sentencing Act are going to bring more serious consequences to protestors in Canada, according to local defence lawyer Emily Hill, who recently penned an article on the issue for Rabble.ca.

Currently, if protestors are picked up with police for, say, staging a sit in at the territorial legislature or blocking the path of the Olympic torch relay, they are often not charged and are released from custody after giving their name and address.

Once the new measures are passed, police will be required to photograph and fingerprint such protestors. Today, such hybrid offences often don’t result in charges. That’s up to the prosecutor in charge of the case. And fingerprints and photos are only taken after charges are laid.

“This change does two things,” wrote Hill. “It lengthens the stay of each person at the police station and intimidates people who have never been in police custody.

“In the long term, this practice may deter would-be participants in large-scale protests.”

Of course, people involved in lawful protest can probably get those records expunged – if they know how to jump through the significant hoops such a process requires.

Do you?

Second, hardcore activists, like the elderly Krawzyck, often wind up in remand, because they can’t make bail or, because they are headstrong enough to reject the bail conditions.

Remand is jail limbo, a place where people who have not been convicted of any crime, and hence are innocent, are held before a trial is conducted to determine their guilt or innocence.

It’s a jail ghetto, often overcrowded and rarely has any programming for the people held there.

At the moment, sentencing judges have the discretion to give more weight to time served in remand. That is, they can count two months spent in remand as four months of your sentence, to account for the harsher conditions and possible delays in getting your case heard promptly.

After the Truth In Sentencing Act comes into force later this year, judges will have that discretion removed.

So, say a protestor like Krawzyck is in remand. Today, there’s an incentive for the case to be heard quickly because the time spent in remand is counted as time and a half, or double time, once a sentence is levelled. That is, they are released from jail quicker.

Once this lever is removed, a prosecutor will have a person jailed and that time will simply be part of their sentence. So there will be little incentive to hear their case quickly.

That may be great if the offender is a badass. But what happens if it’s Krawzyck? Or your child, who was merely protesting a speech by the Iranian president at university?

Legal delays, legitimate or not, have no impact on the person’s eventual sentence. So there’s no rush to justice.

To bring it home, protestors like Krawzyck, who has spent 34 months in jail simply for protesting, will often have to spend more time in prison because there will be no credit for remand.

The judge will be barred from weighing the severity of the crime, and possibly mitigating the sentence by considering time spent in remand.

This is going to make people more reluctant to stand against the actions

of corporations and governments.

And, removing the discretion of our judges – legal experts who administer justice after hearing and considering all the facts and events at their disposal – simply makes our system far more rigid, and far less just.

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