Roots Gadhia: Canada shouldn’t follow U.S.

By AdvocateDaily Staff

The U.S. tough-on-crime approach “is a clear example of what not to do,” and Canada should avoid making the same mistakes, says Toronto criminal lawyer Roots Gadhia. (See Background Story)

Gadhia tells the Harper government’s justice initiatives, including mandatory minimum sentences, are more effective as an “election platform” than in battling crime.

“What the United States has seen happen is that their jails are overflowing,” says Gadhia. “People who are and should not be in custody are languishing there. Mandatory minimums have served to do absolutely nothing other than overpopulate and overcrowd the jail system. It doesn’t reduce crime.”

Gadhia says “we should look to our own stats in Canada; crime has been decreasing progressively in this country since the 1970s. We don’t need these tough-on-crime initiatives.”

She also points to incarceration costs ranging from $18,000 to $50,000 per inmate a year in the U.S. “Housing an individual costs the taxpayers more money than it does for rehabilitation programs. That’s what the U.S. shows us so clearly; they spend more money on jailing individuals and keeping them in custody than actually giving them the wherewithal and life skills to be productive citizens once they get out.”

Gadhia says the widening of the number of crimes that require mandatory minimum sentences in this country is “designed by the Harper government to tie the hands of what they believe to be liberal judges.

“What people don’t understand is that every individual who comes before the courts has a story. People aren’t static, they’re not numbers and files and you can’t treat every individual the same,” says Gadhia. “What a mandatory minimum does is take away the empathy and human heart and concern over an individual’s life story. People come to the criminal courts not just because they’re evil, although there’s always going to be evil people, but because they’ve failed along their path in life for whatever reason. Whether it’s from being in a socio-economically depressed neighbourhood, not getting the appropriate education, living in a single-parent home or not getting food to eat. We are dealing with a whole range of problems and that is topped off with alcoholism or drug addiction.”

Gadhia says that replacing the discretion of judges and “binding their hands” with mandatory minimums “prevents the courts from being what they are designed for, which is to be compassionate and to rehabilitate and to see the individual rather than a governmental policy.”

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