Is COVID-19 a get-out-of-jail-free card”?

jail freeShould a criminal busting into your home or vehicle, not physically injuring you but running away with valuable possessions get a free pass now to avoid speading or being affected by COVID-19 while in jail for whatever time (hours, overnight, or in a pre-trail holding period)?

That’s what criminal defnce lawyer Joe Killoran argues in a Vancouver Sun opinion piece on April 4, 2020. Mr Killoran writes in part, “Police should avoid arresting anyone who is not a danger to the safety of another human being. Catching drug users and preventing crimes against property must take a back seat to protecting public health” (https://www.pressreader.com/canada/vancouver-sun/20200404/281745566497749).

Mr. Killoran’s argument parallels a current international public debate that inmates serving sentences for relatively minor, non-violent crimes or are close to their release date should be released in the interest of public health, specifically the spread of COVID-19 among inmates and Corrections Officers. What is happening is that now even criminals involved in violent crimes are being released in Canada. For more on this “get-out-of-jail-free-card” fisaco go to the great reporting by Stewart Bell of CTV News who reports that:

” A growing number of suspects arrested on serious criminal charges have been ordered released from custody in recent weeks by judges concerned about the spread of COVID-19 in Canada’s prisons. One is the accused getaway driver for a recent Toronto murder attempt. Another allegedly pistol-whipped and Tasered two in Ottawa over a drug debt. A third was allegedly involved in a Toronto strip mall shooting (https://globalnews.ca/news/6788223/coronavirus-prisons-inmates-released/).

But let’s get back to Mr. Killoran’s argument for police to go easy on criminals breaking into your home and/or vehicle. The fact is that property crime is by far the largest criminal offence in Canada. In Canada there were 1.3 million incidents of property crime in 2019. In the same year there were 423,767 violent crimes (https://www.statista.com/topics/2814/crime-in-canada/#dossierSummary__chapter3). The problem is that so-called “non-violent” property crimes are often linked to serious and violent crime. Police will tell you that many break & enters are by those addicted to drugs who need cash to get their next fix. That next fix is imported and distributed by organization crime elements, not particularly known for subtle and soft behavior.

As Amelia Thatcher of the national Royal Canadian Mounted Police wrote in 2015, “From burglary to vandalism, property crime is the most commonly recorded offence in most cities. It can be a targeted attack or a random act of crime involving damaged or stolen property. Be it a stolen garden gnome or a smashed car window, property crime can disrupt the integrity of a neighbourhood and make residents question their safety” (https://www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/en/gazette/property-crime).

We are left with a complex discussion in society. Should public health be further protected by releasing certain categories of prisoners from their sentences, thereby protecting the lives of both prisoners and Corrections Officers? If so, what is that threshhold? Should it be the violent criminals as in the Ontario example? What is the impact on public safety and our trust in law and order?

Should police officers now, as Mr. Killoran suggests, step back from arresting and possibly jailing criminals (even briefly) who commit property crime by breaking and entering into our homes and automobiles, thereby most certainly creating stress and anxiety for residents and property owners, jeoparding their emotional health?

Does a hands-off policy by police for B&E then signal an open-season on property crime encouraging a spike in property crime and further fueling the illegal drug supply chain?

Perhaps the answers are not as simple as Mr. Killoran and other “get-out-of-jail-free-card” proponents profess. Perhaps public safety is certainly health safety related directly to illness and dealth from COVID-19 but it is also most certainly our emotional health, specifically our fear of our loss in Canada of our cherished notion of “peace, order, and good government.”

 

 

 

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