- Mark Bonokoski - More blah, blah on law and order - Mark Bonokoski - More blah, blah on law and order

May 1, 2005

More blah, blah on law and order



WHILE PRIME Minister Paul Martin was spending all of last week promoting his requited same-sex marriage-of-convenience to NDP Leader Jack Layton, Toronto-area Liberal MP Dan McTeague was on local radio bemoaning the fact that the Gomery inquiry had hijacked his government's agenda.

As an example of how Parliament's time could be put to better use by focusing on important issues such as society's protection, McTeague cited the brutal murder of Livvette Miller, the young single mother of four also known as Livvette Moore, who was caught in the crossfire at a North York nightclub early last Sunday.

It was as if -- if not for Gomery, that is -- Liberals would suddenly be out there fighting to bring law-and-order issues to the fore, and using the gunning down of Livvette Miller as the catalyst to put teeth into toothless laws.

If only it were so. But, alas, it is not.

If it were so, and not simply blah, blah, blah, the Liberals would be backing the private member's bill tabled by Gord Brown, the Leeds-Grenville Tory who is seeking to have mandatory minimum sentences handed down to killers who wield knives.

But they are not.

Proof is in a recent Hansard, documenting an exchange between Brown and Irwin Cotler, Canada's chief lawman as both justice minister and attorney general.

Brown: "Mr. Speaker, after another knife killing in Kingston, Ont., Deputy Police Chief Dan Murphy expressed concern about the growing number of people carrying knives to use as weapons. Statistics Canada says that from 1999 to 2003 guns killed 833 people while knives killed 787.

"People who kill with knives face no minimum sentence. Will the justice minister tell us when his government is going to take knife crime seriously and impose mandatory minimum sentences?"

Cotler: "Mr. Speaker, we take all crime seriously, but when it comes to mandatory minimums, we are not going to go ahead and introduce something that all the evidence shows is neither effective nor a deterrent. We want to combat crime, but not with ineffective deterrents."

The Kingston knifing referred to by Brown was the March murder of 23-year-old Queen's University football star Justin Schwieg, and the subsequent arrest of a former Brampton man named Bruce Keno Elijah McKenzie.

But it was not Justin Schwieg's murder that prompted Brown's private member's bill. It was the murder of one of his constituents -- University of Ottawa engineering student Andy Moffitt, who was knifed to death in an Ottawa bar on the eve of Christmas Eve 1998.

While Moffitt posthumously received the Governor General's Medal of Bravery for coming out a loser at playing peacemaker, his killer got a light five-year-sentence when he pleaded guilty to manslaughter in 2003.

In fact, Henry Danninger has been eligible for parole for months already, and recently postponed his scheduled parole hearing for the fourth time. It is now slated for July 26.

But, back to Hansard one day later, and Brown's followup question, this time answered by Cotler's parliamentary secretary, Paul Macklin.

Brown: "Mr. Speaker, anyone familiar with justice in Canada, including violent crime victims, must have been shocked yesterday to hear the justice minister say that mandatory minimum sentences did not deter crime. I understand Liberal nervousness about crimes with mandatory jail sentences. I was asking about crimes with knives, not cash envelopes and chequebooks.

"Could the minister explain his outrageous view, which is an insult to crime victims, police and law-abiding Canadians who demand protection?"

Macklin: "Mr. Speaker, the honourable member really should do a little research. If he did the research, he would find that mandatory minimum penalties do not generally work.

"If we look at the experience in the United States, we will see that it now is removing so many of its mandatory minimum sentences simply because the courts and the lawyers in the system have found ways around them and they really have not become effective as deterrents."

Brown: "Mr. Speaker, the minister's academic banter may sound enlightened, but it rings hollow to people victimized by knife crimes and the police who fight crime every day.

"Could the minister explain yesterday's answer in light of existing mandatory minimum sentences for firearm homicide, drunk driving and other crimes? Is he perhaps looking at a Liberal knife registry?"

Macklin: "Mr. Speaker, if the honourable member looks at the record, he will find that we have more mandatory minimum sentences relating to gun use and gun crime than any other area within our law. That is already in place. We have to work with many tools within our arsenal in order to deal with crime. Mandatory minimums are there, but we also need to put resources with our police. We need to ensure the police have all the tools necessary to meet the needs of our communities."

In other words, blah, blah, blah.

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