Stephen Harper’s high-handed personal attack on the chief justice of Canada is part of a pattern of contempt for legal institutions and the law itself. Harper’s so-called “defeats” at the Supreme Court of Canada illustrate his disrespect for principles of fairness and his complete lack of interest in attempting to create coherent, sensible laws.
In one recent case, the Supreme Court decided that fair credit toward an offender’s sentence was appropriate for those in pretrial detention. In another, it decided that Parliament cannot change, for those already serving their sentences, the minimum time to be spent in penitentiary before applying for release. Such unanimous decisions should surprise no one.
Harper’s approach to criminal law reform is best described as a confused mess. In one of his early bills, he raised the mandatory minimum sentence for carrying out violent crimes like robbery with a handgun from four years to five years (though for inexplicable reasons, the four-year mandatory minimum for robberies with shotguns or high-powered rifles was left unchanged). Does he really think that there are people who would be deterred by a five-year mandatory minimum sentence, but would not be deterred by four years? Is using a shotgun in a robbery really less serious than using a handgun?