by Lorne Gunter
Very few Canadian criminals ever serve time in jail.
Career criminals have figured this out, of course, and know there are few consequences for their stealing, robbing and assaulting.
In 2011, Statistics Canada reports there were 353,000 criminal cases in this country. Of those, 64% (226,000) resulted in guilty verdicts or pleas.
Thirty-two per cent (113,000) were withdrawn by Crown prosecutors or stayed — put on hold — typically for lack of evidence or because the accused agreed to take counselling or make restitution.
Just 3% (11,000) of criminal cases ended in acquittals.
“The proportion of guilty findings was highest in Prince Edward Island (80%) and lowest in Ontario (56%),” according to the nation¹s number-crunchers.
Alberta was bang on the national rate of 64%.
In cases involving violent crimes, the conviction rate is even lower. Just 52% of violent-crime cases resulted in guilty rulings, 40% were stayed or withdrawn and 6% ended in acquittals — double the acquittal rate for criminal cases as a whole.
All of these statistics are from a StatsCan report, Adult criminal court statistics, 2010-11, released last month.
Of those found guilty, only a third (74,580) will be sentenced to jail time.
Of those, 86% (64,000) will be sentenced to less than six months in prison (half will be sentenced to less than one month) and 10% (7,500) will be sentenced to between six months and two years, less a day. Just 4% (3,000) will receive sentences of two years or longer.
That means that of the 353,000 Canadian charged with criminal offences in 2011, just one in five will ever go to prison and less than 1% will serve what is known as “federal time” — a sentence of two years or longer.
And all of these stats say nothing about how much of their sentences those who receive jail time will actually serve before they are released. The average is a third. Most will only be behind bars for one-third of the time they are sentenced to before they are paroled.
What happens to those who are found guilty but not incarcerated? More than half are granted an absolute or conditional discharge (no jail and no criminal record) or they are given a suspended sentence or ordered to do community service.
The rest receive probation (keep your nose clean for a while and you won’t have to go to prison) or pay a fine or are ordered to repay their victims.
Don’t think those likely to commit crimes haven¹t noticed how lenient our system is or that the leniency hasn¹t encouraged them to commit more crimes.
It’s true our crime rates are down from their peaks in the early 1990s. But that is a feature of demographics rather than our every-boy-a-good-boy approach to criminal justice. There are fewer males between 16 and 30 in the population than there were four decades ago. Since those are the prime crime-committing years, there are now fewer crimes.
But I don’t buy StatsCan’s assertion that crime is now lower than at any time since 1973.
I think there is some less actual crime, but lots of crime that simply goes unreported. Surveys of the population known as “crime victimization studies” show that only about 35-40% of crimes are ever reported to police, down from more than 50% in the mid-1970s.
Like criminals, victims know the system is unlikely to punish most offenders. So many Canadians have given up telling police when they have been the victim of a minor crime, such as theft of property.
It is the porous nature of our criminal justice system that has left so many Canadians feeling less safe even as crime stats decline.