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Can getting tough on crime help? | John L. Hill

Thursday, January 05, 2023 @ 1:14 PM | By John L. Hill

John L. Hill %>
John L. Hill
Most people in Ontario, if not all of Canada, were saddened to hear the news that a young police officer who had just completed his probationary period with the Ontario Provincial Police was gunned down while attending a motor vehicle accident. The media went into high gear. Public concern was demonstrated by televising what had been announced as a private funeral service.

Unfortunately, the untimely death of OPP Const. Grzegorz Pierzchala was used as the backdrop for politicians and administrators to vent “get tough on crime” agendas. Of course, the public was shocked and angered that such an admirable young officer was murdered. But is it right that the tragic event of his killing should be used to advance a political perspective without explanation how new tough-on-crime measures would enhance public safety?

OPP commissioner Thomas Carrique was first out of the gate on Dec. 28 when he expressed his “outrage” that one of two suspects arrested for officer Pierzchala’s murder was out on bail on a number of weapons-related charges and thus “was provided the opportunity to take the life of an innocent officer.” He demanded changes supposedly to the way the bail system operates and indeed to the legislative framework itself to restrict the courts from granting bail. At no time did commissioner Carrique discuss a proposal on how a new system would operate to prevent jail overcrowding or to protect people not convicted of any crime from spending inordinate periods of time locked away only to be later found not guilty. Ultimately, commissioner Carrique’s diatribe was an attack on the court and the justice who authorized the bail release.

Next off the mark was Toronto Mayor John Tory. He took the occasion of the day of officer Pierzchala’s funeral to issue a press release that noted the city’s 2023 budget to be presented to the Budget Committee on Jan. 10 anticipates an additional 200 new officers will join the Toronto Police Service. There is no doubt that budget deliberations predated the police officer’s murder, but public sympathy helps soften the impact of a $48.3-million increase in the police budget that is expected to be approved by the Toronto Police Services Board.

Few would complain if it could be demonstrated that the increased expenditures or changes to bail laws would have a significant impact in making our towns and cities safer. Yet many of the Harper-era tough on crimes laws that have been rolled back in recent years have shown that harsh measures are not the panacea in ensuring public safety.

No doubt it is expedient to play to the public’s fears even if those fears are unwarranted. A 2010 report published in Maclean’s magazine pointed out that the Harper government was exploiting Canada’s perceived belief that crime severity was on the increase. The 2010 article noted that in fact the measure of severe crimes was 22 per cent lower than in 1999.

Even though homicide rates are relatively low in Canada (the 2018 homicide rate was 1.8 per cent per 100,000 of population) the rate compiled by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime shows that the Canadian rate is dramatically lower than the five per cent recorded in the United States. Even the U.S.A. rates compare favourably with other G20 countries: Brazil (27.4), Mexico (29.1) and South Africa (36.5).

Perhaps instead of forming public policy on perceptions of danger, a better approach would be to study when and where problems with crime develop and the circumstances that cause a person to act out criminally. That way we could tailor our approaches to addressing crime on a more rational basis than just throwing money at the problem.

If there was any good that came from our experience in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, it was that we are better off looking for evidence-based solutions. Maybe we should tell our politicians and police chiefs that we expect better solutions than simply increased spending.

John L. Hill practised and taught prison law until his retirement. He holds a J.D. from Queen’s and LL.M. in constitutional law from Osgoode Hall. He is also the author of Pine Box Parole: Terry Fitzsimmons and the Quest to End Solitary Confinement (Durvile & UpRoute Books), which was published Sept. 1. Contact him at

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