Proposals to slap first-degree murder charges and tougher sentences on gangsters or police assailants will have little practical effect on curbing gang crime and gun violence, criminologists and other critics say.
More front-line officers, more intrusive investigative powers for police and more resources directed at prevention are needed, they say.
Ross Hastings, director of the Institute for the Prevention of Crime at the University of Ottawa, joins other criminologists in arguing there is no evidence that tougher sentences deter criminals, but the “certainty of being caught” is more likely to do so.
Nonetheless, amid an alarming rise in Vancouver’s gang violence, politicians of all stripes rushed Thursday to endorse federal proposals to label gang killings first-degree murder offences, and to stiffen jail terms for drive-by or reckless gang-motivated shootings and assaults on police.
All three federal opposition parties promised to fast-track the measures proposed by the Conservatives.
In Vancouver, hours after his government introduced the bill to make gang slayings automatically carry a charge of first-degree murder, Prime Minister Stephen Harper shrugged off what he said were the inevitable critics, and insisted on the value of deterrence.
Hastings, a criminology professor, urged smarter, more targeted measures.
“The one thing that will make you slow down to the speed limit is seeing a police officer in your rear-view mirror. The certainty of being caught has much more influence on your behaviour than the severity of the punishment you may or may not be subjected to.”
He said it is “the easiest thing in the world” for a federal government to set minimum penalties or to increase maximum sentences to be levied by a justice system that is administered provincially or locally.