When is panhandling illegal?

With summer coming, there will soon be more pedestrian traffic. With increased pedestrian traffic, there will inevitably be more ‘panhandling’. This column attempts to briefly describe when panhandling becomes illegal.

In 2004, the British Columbia Legislature enacted the Safe Streets Act, S.B.C. 2004, c. 75 (“SSA”). The legislation was intended to prohibit the following two forms for panhandling: 1) aggressive solicitation; and 2) captive audience solicitation.

‘Aggressive solicitation’ occurs when a reasonable person, who is being solicited, becomes concerned for his/her safety or security. The fine for this offence is $115.00.

To illustrate, aggressive solicitation may occur when a solicited person has their safe passage blocked, is being followed, is receiving rude comments or gestures, or is being subjected to physical/verbal threats (all during the solicitation).

‘Captive Audience Solicitation’ occurs when a person is solicited in one of the captive audience situations that are listed in section 3 of the SSA. For those who don’t know, a captive audience situation generally refers to when a person has no choice but to attend/stand in a particular location. The fine for this offence is $86.00.

For ease of reference (and without requiring readers to refer to section 3 the SSA), it can be illegal to solicit people who are waiting at a bus stop/taxi stand, riding on or getting off a bus, waiting to use or using a bank machine, waiting to use or using a public toilet, getting in or out of a vehicle (such as in a parking lot), or sitting inside a parked vehicle on a roadway, which is seemingly directed at “squeegee kids”.

With that being said, no captive audience solicitation offence occurs if the person soliciting is more than 5 meters away from the bank machine, bus stop, pay phone, or public toilet. Also, no offence occurs if the person soliciting within 5 meters of a bank machine has the express approval/acceptance of the person who owns the property where the bank machine is located.

Some groups are concerned that the SSA is bad law. For instance, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association expressed concerns that the SSA would be applied in an inappropriate manner, would unfairly target vulnerable groups, and would criminalize poverty and homelessness.

Challenges to this legislation, however, will not likely be successful.



In 2007, Ontario’s Safe Streets Act, which is virtually identical to B.C.’s SSA, was held to be valid by the Ontario Court of Appeal’s decision in R. v. Banks, 2007 ONCA 19. Also, in the 2002 B.C. Supreme Court decision of Federated Anti-Poverty Groups of B.C. v. Vancouver (City), 2002 BCSC 105, a bylaw that prohibits particular forms of panhandling (which is similar in substance to the SSA) was held to be valid.

In both cases, it was argued that the laws infringed various Charter rights. However, such arguments were unsuccessful. In the B.C. case, it was argued that the bylaw violates the freedom of expression (as well as discriminates against those living in poverty). While the Court held that panhandling is a form of expression used by those in poverty, panhandling that is aggressive or takes place in a captive audience situation does not fall within that freedom (and can be prohibited).

On the street, it has been reported that some police are discriminatory (against those living in poverty) in the law’s application. I don’t have any evidence of such discrimination, but such accusations are not that far-fetched; I can’t imagine this law being applied to Girl Guides selling cookies near a bus stop. It has also been reported that some police will issue tickets to panhandlers not technically breaking the law. As a result, it has been recommended by assistance groups (to those living in poverty) that panhandlers carry a copy of the SSA.

Whatever your position on this legislation, it behooves British Columbians to assist those living in poverty. Eventually, if we are fortunate, no one will need to panhandle to acquire the necessities of life.

**The information contained in this column should not be treated by readers as legal advice and should not be relied on without detailed legal counsel being sought. 

Originally posted on Castanet.net on February 21, 2012: When is panhandling illegal?

Parole explained: what is it?

This column is intended to shed some light on parole, an often misunderstood topic.

First of all, parole refers to the early release (from jail) of a prisoner into a community, subject to continued monitoring and conditions (upon that release). The prisoner has to spend a particular amount of time in jail before they can apply for parole; the particular amount of time spent in jail depends on their offence.



The Parole Board of Canada, an administrative tribunal, has the authority to grant, deny, and revoke parole. It receives its authority from the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, which provides the rules governing parole. The Criminal Code also contains rules governing parole (i.e. sections 743.6 and 745).

So, why are prisoners even given parole/early release? Why not just keep them in jail? There are many reasons, but, in short, early release is beneficial for both the offender and the public. Releasing an offender on conditions and subjecting them to continued monitoring, as well as assisting with their reintegration, assists the offender in becoming a successful, contributing member of the community.

So, how often do people commit offences while on parole? More than 70% of offenders who were released on parole successfully completed their sentences. Approximately 16% had their parole revoked because they breached their conditions and just more than 10% had their parole revoked because they committed a new offence.

Obviously, some people commit another offence while on parole. But, the number is small and the alternative to parole is simply cutting all prisoners loose upon the conclusion of their sentence (with no monitoring, conditions, or assistance).

I can already hear some people saying, “But, the offender isn’t serving their whole sentence!” That position is understandable, but misguided. The offender is still serving their sentence; they are merely serving it partially in the community. They are subject to conditions and monitoring, akin to punishment. If the offender breaches the conditions, they can be hauled back into jail.

What does the Parole Board consider when deciding whether or not to grant parole? First and foremost is the protection of the public (despite some common sentiment). Other considerations are the offender’s ability to reintegrate into society and the offender’s rehabilitation efforts/progress. Also considered are the offender’s criminal history, their institutional behaviour, and their proposed release plan.

When can prisoners actually apply for parole? Well, this depends on the offender’s previous conviction/offence. For the most part, prisoners can apply for parole after 1/3 of their sentence has been served. For life sentences for crimes other than murder, offenders can generally apply for parole after 7 years.

For first degree murder, which comes with a life sentence, the offender is not entitled to parole for 25 years. For second degree murder, which also has a life sentence, there is a minimum of 10 years, though it is regularly much higher than that in practice.

Parole eligibility can also be delayed. The sentencing judge can delay parole eligibility if the offence was brutal, the offender requires additional punishment, or the offence related to terrorism or organized crime.

So, how many people are actually paroled? Approximately 40-45% of offenders are paroled between 1/3 and 2/3 of their sentence. And for your comfort, the majority of those who are guilty of killing another person are not paroled on their parole eligibility date.

I can understand people’s anger when prisoners are paroled. However, anger and emotion are terrible justifications in sentencing/criminal law.

It also needs to be remembered that the overwhelming majority of prisoners who are given early release are not violent, murderous people. If someone is a danger to the public, then I have faith that they will remain locked up (and a life sentence will mean just that: life in jail). Likewise, I’d wager that Robert Pickton will never be paroled, even if he lives for another 100 years.

**The information contained in this column should not be treated by readers as legal advice and should not be relied on without detailed legal counsel being sought.

Originally posted on Castanet.net on February 14, 2012: Parole explained.

First vs. second degree murder: what’s the difference?

There seems to be some public confusion about the difference between first and second degree murder. This column is intended to reduce that confusion.

Please be warned that this topic may not be suitable for younger readers.

To start, not all homicide (human killing another human) is blameworthy or subject to punishment (nor should it be). For example, imagine someone falling/stumbling from a viewing deck (at a firing range) into the line of fire (and being killed by gun fire). Undoubtedly, the shooter caused the death; but, his actions are not blameworthy.

In contrast, homicide is blameworthy if it is second or first degree murder. I will explain.

Put briefly, second degree murder occurs when someone 1) causes the death of another person; and 2) intends to cause that person’s death OR intends to cause bodily harm that he/she knows is likely to cause that person’s death.

Consider the following example: Fred, who has quite a temper, goes to the supermarket and, while there, Barney gives Fred a dirty look. Fred impulsively retaliates, beating him senselessly, knowing that the harm is likely to cause Barney’s death. Barney dies from the beating. This is second degree murder.

First degree murder is, essentially, an elevated form of second degree murder.

To start, in order to prove first degree murder, Crown Prosecutors must be able to prove second degree murder. In other words, the Crown must still prove that the assailant 1) caused the death of another person; and 2) intended to cause that person’s death OR cause bodily harm that the assailant knew would likely cause that person’s death.

In order for second degree murder to become (be elevated to) first degree murder, one of the following things must also occur: 1) the assailant kill a peace officer; 2) the assailant plan or scheme the killing; OR 3) the assailant kill someone while committing (or attempting to commit) one of the offences listed in section 231(5)-(6.2) of the Criminal Code.

For ease of reference, the offences (that elevate murder listed in s. 231, alluded to above) include sexual assault, kidnapping, hostage taking, and offences regarding terrorist or criminal organization/activity.

Here are two examples of first degree murder to illustrate:

1) Fred goes to the supermarket; but, he isn’t buying groceries. Instead, Fred is there to ambush (and kill Barney). Fred knows that Barney is shopping and waits for Barney in the parking lot. As Barney leaves the market, Fred walks towards Barney, pulls a gun, and shoots Barney, killing him instantly. This planned killing is first degree murder.

2) One day, after working at the rock quarry, Fred, being his normal, unreasonable self, gets into an argument with poor Barney. During the argument, Fred punches Barney, temporarily disorienting him. At that moment, Fred puts Barney into the trunk of his vehicle (against Barney’s will). Fred then drives his vehicle to a deserted parking lot and beats him, knowing that the beating is likely to cause Barney’s death (but not actually intending to cause Barney’s death). As a result of the beating, Barney dies. Despite the lack of planning, this is first degree murder (as Barney was killed during the kidnapping).

Whether or not it is first or second degree murder, the punishment for either offence is life in prison, as indicated by s. 235 of the Criminal Code. However, the length of time before the offender is eligible for parole (i.e. release) depends on whether the offender is convicted of first or second degree murder. Parole eligibility will be discussed in a future column.

**The information contained in this column should not be treated by readers as legal advice and should not be relied on without detailed legal counsel being sought.

Originally posted on Castanet.net on February 7, 2012: First vs second degree murder.

Corporate criminals: businesses commit crimes, too!

Just as individuals can be charged with ‘true crimes’, such as theft, fraud, and manslaughter, so too can corporations. Obviously, corporations cannot technically be arrested (in the traditional sense); but, if they break the law (i.e. the Criminal Code), there are mechanisms to punish their behaviour and protect the public.

For a bit of context, corporations are a separate legal entity. A corporation itself, is separate from its shareholders and directors. A corporation can sue and be sued, it can enter into contracts, it can own property, and it has the potential of living forever, as the retirement/death of its executives/directors does not impact on its ‘life’.

Also, for further context, ‘true crimes’, such as theft, fraud, or manslaughter, require a mental element, also known as ‘mens rea’, which is Latin for ‘guilty mind’. To further explain, consider this example: if a grocery teller forgets to charge a customer for an item (and the customer does not notice), then that customer should not be found guilty of theft if they leave the store with the unpaid item (as they did not have a ‘guilty mind’).

Having laid the background, you might ask, “How can a corporation have a guilty mind? How can you attribute a mental element to an abstract legal entity, like a corporation?”

Well, very generally speaking, courts will look at the person within the corporation (who did the wrongdoing) and see if they were the acting and directing will/mind of the corporation. If they were the acting/directing mind, then the corporation (by extension) can be brought to criminal court (and charged). The person who did the wrongdoing does not have to be a director/executive of the corporation.

To illustrate further, consider R. v. Waterloo Mercury Sales, [1974] A.J. No. 135. In this case, a used-car sales manager (who was not a director or officer of the corporation) turned back odometers and, as a result, defied orders from senior officials. This manager was found to the directing mind/will of the corporation (i.e. he was making decisions for and directing the corporation’s affairs) and, in the end, the corporation was held criminally liable for fraud.

The leading case in Canada regarding this issue is: R. v. Canadian Dredge & Dock Co. [1985] 1 S.C.R. 662, a case in which several companies were held liable for conspiring to rig bids on government contracts, contrary to the Criminal Code.

So, after getting a conviction, how are corporations actually sentenced? Well, the typical sentence is either a fine, which can be very high, or probation. Within probation, the Criminal Code allows for a ‘shaming order’, which requires a corporation to inform the public of what offence was committed, what sentence the corporation received, and how the corporation will reduce the likelihood of committing another offence. Also, courts can impose orders that a corporation revise its policies (ensuring public safety).

I appreciate that this may be a ‘dry’ topic. But, this is important as corporations are capable of heinous actions.

In 1992, 26 miners were killed in the Westray Mining Disaster/Explosion. Before the explosion occurred, several officials had commented that the mine was very dangerous and unsafe. Despite these warnings, the mine continued to operate. Afterwards, managers were charged with causing the death of the miners, but there wasn’t enough evidence to convict. Many laws regarding corporate criminal liability came from this disaster (and its disappointing outcome).

Corporations play a huge role in today’s world and it is important to know that they are not above our criminal laws. If they break the rules, they will be held to task (and rightly so).

**The information contained in this column should not be treated by readers as legal advice and should not be relied on without detailed legal counsel being sought.

Originally posted on Castanet.net on January 24, 2012: Corporate criminals.

Prevent crime before it occurs

Last week, I discussed three programs/initiatives that combat the root causes of crime: 1) Prolific Offender Management Program, 2) Vancouver’s Drug Treatment Court Program, and 3) Vancouver’s Downtown Community Court.

While these programs/initiatives are immensely beneficial, they are nevertheless ‘reactive’, meaning they address crime (and the causes of it) AFTER the crime has occurred. To adequately address crime (and maximize societal benefits), we need to ‘proactively’ address crime. In other words, we need to prevent crime (and its causes) BEFORE it occurs.

Two theories of crime reduction/prevention, which attempt to address crime before it occurs, are as follows:

  1. Social Development Theory; and
  2. Environmental Development Theory.

Social Development Theory supports programs/initiatives that attempt to address the social/psychological/economic root causes of crime. As stated last week, the most common root causes of crime are poverty, drug/alcohol addiction, poor employability, racism/discrimination, mental illness, and family violence. In addition, teen pregnancy, school problems, poor pre-natal care, and poor physical/mental growth are also factors that lead to crime. So, in an effort to reduce the presence of these factors, Social Development Theory asserts that people should be given opportunities to stay healthy, independent, respectful, and educated.

At present, there are programs which employ the Social Development Theory of crime reduction/prevention, whether or not it is intentional. For example, the secondary school lunch programs, which provide free meals to impoverished children, address the physical and mental growth of individuals. Also, the payment of income assistance attempts to address poverty and lack of employability.

However, while there are programs/initiatives, there is much work that needs to be done. As an illustration, income inequality has increased in Canada since the 1990s. The number of middle-income families has shrunk and the number of low and high income families has increased, thereby creating a large gap between the rich and the poor; the largest gaps being in Toronto and in Vancouver. Also, in 2001, 18.4% of children in Canada were living in poverty. More specifically, in 2001, 39% of children from two-parent recent immigrant families were living in poverty, which is up from 22% in 1980. Similarly, just less than 50% of children living in single-parent families were living in poverty. Such inequality and child poverty is criminogenic.

In contrast, the Environmental Development Theory of crime prevention focuses on environmental conditions and designs which proactively reduce or prevent criminal behaviour. Put another way, it proposes that, with effective design, use, or maintenance of property, there can be a reduction in crime. The premise behind this theory is that crime is contextual and opportunistic; if an environment is unsuitable for crime, crime will decrease.

Under this theory, there are three general principles. First, designs (for buildings and cities) should be made to maximize surveillance, limit hiding places, maximize visibility, and maximize a flow of traffic. Second, people should be encouraged to take ownership over their surroundings as territoriality is thought to prevent crime. Third, built structures should be maintained and enhanced to encourage people to respect their surroundings.

This method of crime prevention has been used successfully. To illustrate, the mining community of Tumbler Ridge in northern British Columbia used Environmental Design Theory to prevent crime. When constructing the new city, the city planners ensured that there was a good flow of foot traffic and that there were few areas with limited visual access. As a result, criminal activity was ultimately discouraged. As another example of Environmental Design Theory, police in the U.K. credit their abundance of cameras to capturing the transit bombers in 2005.

Whichever theory you support, I hope that we can agree that crime (and its causes) should be addressed before it occurs. I also hope that we can agree that the current/future governments should use their resources (and considerably so) on proactive strategies, rather than on simply “tough on crime” measures, which are largely unproven and reactionary.

**The information contained in this column should not be treated by readers as legal advice and should not be relied on without detailed legal counsel being sought. 

Originally posted on Castanet.net on January 3, 2012: Prevent crime before it occurs.

How do we prevent crime?

Crime hurts us: it disproportionately affects our insurance, health care, and social services. Violent crime also tears the fabric of our society and attacks our collective sense of wellbeing and safety. So, how do we stop it?

Last week, I explained that the ‘severity of punishment’ does not decrease crime; rather, it is the ‘certainty’ of being caught/punished that decreases crime. But, other than ‘certainty of punishment’, are there other methods that can be used? To answer that question, we need to identify the root causes of crime.

For the most part, the root causes of crime are:

  1. poverty;
  2. drug/alcohol addiction;
  3. poor employability;
  4. racism/discrimination;
  5. mental illness; and
  6. family violence.

To illustrate, Aboriginals are overrepresented in the criminal justice system. While Aboriginals only make up 3% of the general population, they represent approximately 20% of Canada’s prison population. Aboriginals also have double the recidivism rate (rate of re-offending) of non-Aboriginals. The root cause of this overrepresentation is thought to be attributable to the effect of residential schools on survivors and subsequent generations, poverty, drug/alcohol addiction, and racism/discrimination. Also, as another illustration, consider that single mothers, individuals presumably with less financial means, as well as women who are survivors of (family) violence are both disproportionately overrepresented as offenders in the criminal justice system.

Now that we have identified the root causes of crime, we can make efforts to fix those causes, which will lead to a decrease in crime. Sound like a lofty goal? Well, it is – but, there are multiple programs that address (and help with) these root causes. Three such programs are as follows:

Prolific Offender Management Program: This Program, implemented in several B.C. communities, arose out of the recognition that 50% of the crime that occurs in B.C. is perpetrated by 10% of the offenders. These ‘prolific offenders’ have extensive criminal records, substance abuse, mental disorders, and/or a lack of job or life skills. The Program brings together workers from housing and social services, income assistance, psychiatric services, law enforcement, and other community resources to help with the underlying needs of the prolific offenders. In order to assist with the root causes of crime, the Program refers offenders (after attending court) for drug treatment, job/housing programs, close police supervision, and/or mental health therapy. In some of the communities where the Program has been used, there has been a 10-40% drop in the general crime rate.

Vancouver’s Drug Treatment Court Program: As the name implies, this Program is aimed at offenders with drug addiction problems. Once admitted to the Program (and after attending court), offenders engage in social activities, counselling, and judicial progress reviews. Those who remain in and graduate from the Program have an increase in self-esteem and self-control, have a lower rate of subsequent drug use, and have a lower rate of re-offending. The Vancouver Coastal Health Authority is also involved in the Program and often addresses the physical/mental health of the participants/offenders.

Vancouver’s Downtown Community Court: Opening in 2008, this Court was the first of its kind in Canada. This Court is built on the premise that street crime cannot be addressed by the justice system alone; it requires the cooperation of social and health organizations to address the root causes of crime. During the Court’s process, information is gained about the offender’s needs and circumstances. After attending Court, the offender may attend drug/health treatment or receive a referral for housing, health care, or income assistance. Also, some businesses/organizations lend assistance and some offenders are taught new job skills and gain work experience.

To be clear, I am not suggesting the prison should not be used in some circumstances. I am merely suggesting that programs and laws directed at addressing the root causes of crime, rather than simply creating harsher punishments, show a lot of promise (and should be given plenty of support). The benefits are more than just a reduced crime rate; a better Canada will also emerge – one with less discrimination, poverty, and illness.

**The information contained in this column should not be treated by readers as legal advice and should not be relied on without detailed legal counsel being sought. 

Originally posted on Castanet.net on December 27, 2011: How to prevent crime.

Do severe punishments deter crime?

It is seemingly public opinion that severe and harsh sentences are required to prevent future crime. Almost every week, I hear someone say, “If penalties were harsh(er), people wouldn’t commit crimes.” This concept of affecting behaviour with punishment is referred to, in sentencing law, as ‘deterrence’ and has been a purpose in sentencing law for 100’s of years.

Within ‘deterrence’, there are two separate, but related, concepts:

  1. Specific deterrence:This is focused on the individual offender. The idea is that if an individual is punished (severely/sufficiently), then the consequences of that individual’s actions will be instilled and that individual will be discouraged from committing future criminal acts.
  2. General deterrence: This is focused on the general population. The idea is that if punishments are public and well-known, then the rate of crime will decrease, as other individuals, who see/hear about the punishments, will be deterred from committing crimes themselves.

Deterrence is based on the premise that humans are ‘rational’ and weigh the advantages and disadvantages of their actions. As a result, the pain of punishment must be equal to or more than the pleasure/benefits of crime in order to deter the public/individual from choosing to commit a crime.

However, does deterrence actually work? Short answer: no (with some shades of grey).

There is a growing acceptance that people commit crimes for reasons other than some rational decision-making process; people also commit crimes for psychological, social, or economic reasons. At least for me, I am sceptical (which is an understatement) that people think to themselves, “I choose to assault this person because the penalty does not currently outweigh the benefits of assaulting this person”. I am more inclined to believe that an assault would occur because of some psychological/social reason.

Also, if punishment actually deters people from re-offending, then the imposition of (arguably severe) penalties would prevent those same people from committing future crime. However, in 1999, there was an analysis of over 50 studies (involving over 336,000 offenders), which showed that prison sentences do not decrease recidivism (rate of re-offending); if anything, prison sentences actually produce an increase in recidivism; discrediting the idea of specific deterrence.

How about the deterrent effect on the general population? Does punishment of other offenders really deter the public from committing crimes themselves? Well, there isn’t a clear answer. There have been studies done on this issue, but there is no convincing evidence, either way, on overall (general) deterrent effect.

So, what do we know? What has actually been shown to be effective? Well, it has been found that the deterrent effect exists more with the certainty of punishment (probability of being caught) than the severity of punishment. So, if we want to reduce crime, measures should be taken to ensure that more offenders are caught (and subsequently prosecuted), rather than making amendments to the Criminal Code, creating harsher sentences. Besides, how many people have actually read the Criminal Code and know the penalties? Probably not many.

**The information contained in this column should not be treated by readers as legal advice and should not be relied on without detailed legal counsel being sought. 

Originally posted on Castanet.net on December 20, 2011: Do severe punishments deter crime?

Gruesome history of sentencing

If you have been paying attention to the news, you have heard about the proposed changes to Canada’s sentencing/criminal laws, namely Bill C-10 – the federal government’s Safer Streets and Communities Act. Put simply, the Bill proposes a heavier reliance on imprisonment. Many, including the federal Conservative government, support the changes, and many, including the provincial governments of Quebec, Ontario, and Newfoundland, as well as the Canadian Bar Association, are strongly against it.

Rather than discussing the Bill, here is a brief history of sentencing, which may shed some additional light on the current debate:

In ancient communities, such as in Greece, Rome, and England, the common forms of punishment (which, at the time, was akin to sentencing) for crimes were gruesome. They included physical mutilation, like cutting off a tongue, an ear, or a hand. They also included forced labour, such as working in a salt mine or in the galley of a boat, or being forced into gladiatorial combat. Transportation to foreign colonies and capital punishment were also used. By 1800, capital punishment was available in England for as many as 200 offences and took many forms, including being stoned, thrown off a cliff, burned at the stake, buried alive, or quartered (chopped into four pieces).


It was also around 1800 that capital punishment and transportation were becoming less popular and penitentiaries began to arise. These were designed for long-term imprisonment. Prisoners were required to work and pray, and it was hoped that, in solitude, they would reflect upon their poor choices. Before this, prisons were really only used to hold people awaiting trial or execution.

In the beginning of the 19th century, punishments (or sentences) from crimes in Canada were similar to those in England; but, just as in England, changes were happening. At the beginning of the 19th century, fines were introduced and imprisonment began to replace hard labour. In 1830, branding and public flogging (whipping or caning) were largely abolished. In 1835, the first penitentiary in Canada was opened in Kingston, Ontario. Capital punishment was also losing favour and, in 1833, capital punishment was restricted, by the Upper Canada legislature, to nine serious crimes, including treason, murder, rape, buggery, bestiality, robbery, arson, and burglary. The last hanging to occur in Canada was in 1962 at Toronto’s Don Jail and, in 1975, capital punishment was officially abolished, with some exceptions remaining for several years afterward for the National Defence Act.

Throughout the 20th century, imprisonment was the dominant sentencing response to crime in Canada, but fines and probation were slowly gaining support. In the late 20th century, imprisonment was losing favour as there was much debate about its over-use and its ineffectiveness in preventing future harm/crime. There was also a gradual push towards more rehabilitative and restorative models of sentencing, rather than some punishment-type model, seeking an eye-for-an-eye. It is for these reasons that many current sentences being levied do not include imprisonment (but only when imprisonment is not appropriate) and, instead, seek to rehabilitate offenders and repair the harm caused to the community and to the victims. Such rehabilitative and reparative sentences have been, and continue to be, successful in several European countries.

I wish I could go on, but the history of sentencing is a huge topic; I am simply unable to fully explore it here. But, it can be seen that sentencing law has evolved over hundreds of years and it would appear that the federal Conservative government wants to explore an earlier time when imprisonment was thought to be more effective.

I encourage everyone to do his/her own research and come to their own conclusions. But, for me, I agree with those who are against the changes, as Canada has some of the safest communities in the world and an already decreasing crime rate.

**The information contained in this column should not be treated by readers as legal advice and should not be relied on without detailed legal counsel being sought. 

Originally posted on Castanet.net on December 13, 2011: Gruesome history of sentencing.

Stalking your ex-girlfriend?

If you’re reading this column, you’ve probably been in a romantic relationship. And, if you’ve been in a relationship, you’ve likely had your heart broken. Maybe you were “dumped” or maybe you “did the dumping”…


Whatever happened, hopefully you were able to move on – and you were able to realize that there are other fish in the sea. But, not everyone realizes this and some people actually stalk their ex-partners after the relationship ends.

Now, there seems to be some confusion over whether or not stalking is illegal. Well, for those of you who don’t know, it is.

I recently watched a television show on Netflix (“Stalked: Somebody’s Watching”), detailing some American stories of stalking. In a few of the stories, the victims reported the incidents to police, but police “couldn’t do anything” because “no harm” occurred. That explanation was ridiculous – rest assured, stalking is ILLEGAL in Canada.

In 1993, Canada criminalized “stalking-type” behaviour. In criminal law, the technical term for “stalking” is “criminal harassment”.

The law was made in recognition that women are often stalked prior to being injured or killed. In a 1991 FBI study, it was found that 90% of women who were killed by their former husbands were stalked prior to their murders. Similar results were found in an Ontario study, looking at murdered women between 1974 and 1990.

Although you may have never experienced stalking first-hand, we’ve all seen stalking in Hollywood. David Letterman and Madonna, for instance, were both victims of obsessed fans. You may also recall that, in 1989, Rebecca Schaeffer, a television actress, was murdered at her Los Angeles apartment by an obsessed fan who had stalked her for two years.

So, what type of (stalking) behaviour is actually criminal in Canada? Well, it is against the law to harass someone to the point where it causes that person to fear for his/her safety. It can occur when someone is repeatedly followed or contacted, either directly or indirectly (i.e. through a 3rd party). It can also occur when someone sits outside of or repeatedly drives by the person’s home or workplace. Creepy stuff…

A lot of harm can result from stalking, even if someone is never physically injured. Victims of stalking often have DEEP emotional and psychological scars. They may resign from their job, change their name, or move cities. Victims may only wear shoes that they can run in or they may have unlisted telephone numbers for the rest of their lives. Some victims “jump” every time their home telephone rings.

After convicting a stalker, sentencing is very important: as, said above, stalking is sometimes a pre-curser to more violent crimes. Stalkers can be subject to jail. They can also be ordered to attend treatment programs, which are intended to help the stalker deal with loss and sadness. Not surprisingly, stalkers can also be ordered to “stay away” from their victims.

As you might have guessed, this topic is huge. I wish I could dig deeper into the law surrounding criminal harassment. But, I can’t.

So, in closing, if someone is following you or is causing you to be afraid, then do the smart thing: report it to police.

And now you know.

**The information contained in this column should not be treated by readers as legal advice and should not be relied on without detailed legal counsel being sought.

Originally posted on Castanet.net on February 19, 2013: Stalking your ex-girlfriend.