Lawrie McFarlane: Courts must take stronger measures against socially destructive behaviour

I want to say a word or two about sentencing policies in B.C.’s courts, but first a correction.

In a column on the recent provincial budget, I mistakenly attributed a $300-million entrepreneurial fund to B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson. The fund was, in fact, contained in the federal budget that came down the day before. My apologies to Robinson, and to readers.

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In 2017, Joshua Milne, a 23-year old man, sexually assaulted a 17-year old teen in Burnaby. Warning to readers: What follows is a graphic account, copied verbatim from the judge’s summation.

“[Milne] took advantage of her trust, rendered her unconscious, and then objectified and violated her, both through his prolonged five-hour attack and by recording his actions on his cellphone. The following morning, rather than provide assistance given her debilitated state, he lied to authorities, which led to her certification under the Mental Health Act and involuntary detention in hospital.”

Milne pleaded guilty to sexual assault (meaning, in this case, rape), and transmitting child pornography. In 2020, he was sentenced to 12 months for sexual assault, and two months for child pornography, a total of 14 months for an utterly despicable act.

What his judge was thinking about passes human understanding. The B.C. Court of Appeal halfway agreed, later increasing his sentence to 30 months for rape, plus 12 months for distributing child pornography.

At least that’s something. Yet in what world is this any kind of appropriate response to such brutal behaviour?

And keep in mind, that’s before time off for good behaviour. Unbelievable.

Or it would be until you dig further. Look at our overdose crisis.

In 2020, 1,724 people died of drug overdoses, up from 470 in 2015. Across the province, that’s more people than died from COVID-19 last year.

In response to that crisis, we imposed far-reaching mobility restrictions, wrecked several business sectors and tanked the economy, and the provincial government went ruinously into debt.

You might think the drug crisis would warrant equally far-reaching measures. But you would be wrong.

Here are the sentences laid down by the federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act: The minimum prison sentence for trafficking, or possession for purposes of trafficking, is one year if there are semi-serious aggravating factors, and two years if there are severe factors.

The minimum sentence for importing or exporting is one year if the amount is less than one kilogram, and two years if it’s more than that.

Keep in mind that a lethal dose of fentanyl is two milligrams, meaning there are half a million doses in one kilogram.

Now these sentences are minimums. Heavier penalties can be imposed. Nevertheless, no one could reasonably call this cracking down on drug crime.

Here’s how another inexplicable event was reported in this newspaper two weeks ago. “Victoria police arrested a man with a violent criminal history within two hours of his release on probation. Police said the man has more than 70 criminal convictions for such offences as random assaults, assault with a weapon, assault causing bodily harm and assaulting a police officer.”

Read further, and you discover he was out on the streets again just last year, after injuring several correctional staff with a makeshift weapon.

We don’t want to follow the example of the U.S., which has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world, and where many of the inmates are petty crooks.

But when it comes to serious crimes or repeat offenders, it’s clear we’re not taking the measures required to deter and punish socially destructive behaviour.

We need our courts and parole boards to pull themselves together and remember their first duty — protecting the public.

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