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The public does not understand criminal justice

Yesterday, December 5th 2008, Sasan Ansari was sentenced to five years in prison for manslaughter. Ansari admitted to stabbing the deceased, Joshua Goos, 33 times. The details of the crime are horrific. Ansari first stabbed Goos while they were both sitting in a parked SUV. Goos then tried to flee. He was chased down and stabbed repeatedly. It is a horrible and ghastly crime. Ansari raised a defence that he was in a dissociative state at the time, he could not remember anything that happened, it was as if his mind had shut off and his body was acting completely of its own accord. Clearly the jury accepted Ansari’s defence, at least in part.

There is now outrage about the 5 year sentence given to Ansari. The outrage stems largely from an ignorance of the criminal justice system, and the fact that Crown inflamed public sentiment by calling this a “near murder” during submissions on sentencing. There is no such thing as a “near murder” in Canada.

People usually fail to understand that our criminal justice system is one designed to serve society, not the accused/convicted and the victims. The state prosecutes crimes, the state houses criminals, and the state even compensates victims in many cases. There is a strong society interest in the criminal justice system. The point of jail sentences is not simply to punish people. It is also to protect society, but more importantly, to attempt to reform the convicted. Ansari is a prime example of a person who can truly change, truly learn from his horrible mistake, and once he has served time in prison, will hopefully dedicate at least part of his life to making amends for what he has done.

I have never been able to understand why people think the only appropriate response to a loss of life is to go out and completely ruin another life. Joshua Goos is gone from this world. I cannot imagine the pain that his family has gone through, and will continue to have to cope with for the res of their lives. I have always tried to avoid vengeance as my primary motive for anything. I would hope that if a loved one of mine were killed, that something positive could come out of their death. I would hope that their killer would come to see just how destructive their actions were and would work to make amends for their actions.

Sasan Ansari may have gotten off a little light for what he has done. A five year sentence is not out of the ordinary for the crime of manslaughter, and a convicted like Ansari. He has no criminal record. He has a strong background of community service. Though five years seems light for taking a life, Ansari’s life has been changed forever. Ansari had been a law student up until recently, it is now highly unlikely that he could ever become a lawyer. He will have to live with the shame and grief of what he has done for the rest of his life. It will be a tough road ahead for Ansari, but I think that he has a good chance of not only accepting responsibility for what he has done, but also working hard to make amends for what he has done.

The focus of our criminal justice system should not be to punish, but rather, to rehabilitate. We need to focus on rehabilitating those who are convicted, those who are victims, and society as a whole. Whenever a crime is committed there is damage to the victim, the criminal, and to society. The criminal justice system tries to address the grievances of all three parties. The public, however, usually seems bent on a lust for vengeance, which leads to nothing but more destruction and heart ache.


December 6, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | 12 Comments

HSBC Celebration of Assholes

I just got back from the fireworks, they are still going on, I lasted about 15 minutes before I got too angry with the countless people with no regard whatsoever for the people around them. I was standing close to a group of teenage boys who were more concerned with their cell phones and smoking than they were with the fireworks.  They also seemed compelled to yell the word “fuck” quite a lot. Also earlier in the show there was another group of young people (probably in their late teens) who were not watching the show at all really but rather were listening to music on a boom box and dancing. It shocks me just how stupid and rude people can be.

I was standing there, watching the fireworks, getting increasingly annoyed and wondering how aggressive I could be in confronting any number of these idiots without getting myself into trouble. The sad reality is that it is nearly impossible to confront someone and backup your words with actions without getting into some sort of criminal trouble. I think that you should be excused from prosecution when you smack someone who you first asked very nicely to cease being a disruptive asshole, but this is not the way that our criminal justice system operates. If you hit someone who is being an obnoxious asshole you are still held to account.

Even further compounding my frustration was the large number of police standing about and doing nothing at all to encourage people in the crowd to be respectful of those around them. The police just all stand together at intersections, seemingly chatting amongst themselves, doing nothing to help with crowd control. I am just glad that I was down at the fireworks by myself, and not with family, it would be truly embarrassing to have children exposed to the kind of language and rude behaviour that is everywhere at the fireworks.

Just a little note, I was at the fireworks alone because I live about 2 minutes walk from English Bay. I have little to no interest in the fireworks but will usually walk down the street at about 9:50 PM to catch the show, there is really nothing else to do when the fireworks are on as they create so much noise.

It would be nice if the police would do more to control the crowd. Decent folks are subjected to a barrage of rude and disruptive behaviour and are unable to do anything about it. I understand fully that it would create chaos if people stood up for themselves and confronted all these assholes, perhaps even smacking a few of them around, but it would sure feel good to do it. Instead, I sit here, still angry, but not confronting anyone, instead I rant hopelessly to no one. Yay fireworks.

July 23, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | | Leave a comment

luckier than most

I sit here writing this post while watching The Sopranos.  I am on season 6, part 1, episode 6, the one where Vito Spatafore is found out to be gay.  It has made me think about what it was like, and is like for me being a gay male.

I am from Kelowna, BC, born and raised, left when I was 20 years old.  I came out to my parents when I was 17. Coming out was both good and bad.  My Mom and my Sister were both very good about it.  They both loved me unconditionally, they thought it meant little to nothing that I was gay.  My Father on the other hand left a great deal to be desired.  I had always gotten along well with my Dad. He is pretty easy going. He taught me about sports and I really took to it, we have always been able to talk because of our mutual love of sports.  When I came out to him he was very upset.  We yelled at each other a lot, said some nasty things to each other, we had never really fought before that.  It was a tough time for me, tough for the family, and my Mom in particular because she was battling breast cancer at the time.

Ultimately though, coming out has been a good experience for me.  My Dad and I fought, and did not really address my sexuality for years to come.  He has still not come around completely, he only grudgingly brings up my partner of 8 years (the same person I was with when I came out to my Dad). Why I right this is not to complain about my coming out, but to reflect on how relatively easy it is to come out in Canada compared to most of the world. My experience was mostly positive, I had my issues, but ultimately I still have a family that loves me, my partner, and my friends.  In most of the world coming out is still not an option.  You live with your sexuality as a secret in most of the world if you are queer.

Tony Soprano just said “Frankly, I think they go about in pity for themselves.” Referring of course to homosexuals.  As horrible as it might sound, I think that he is right in many ways. I got about in pity for myself all the time.  My family has been relatively supportive, but if I were straight things would be very different. I have to constantly let people know that I am gay, it is always assumed that you are straight. But really, I am lucky. I have a wonderful partner, I live in a great gay friendly neighbourhood in Vancouver, I have a strong education and I am set to have a strong career. I am in a sense lucky to be gay as well, without this trait I would be a middle class, white, male, conservative lawyer. Being gay makes me all of those things but conservative.  My sexuality, and my experience of coming out gives me perspective.

I am luckier that most people in this world, due largely to the fact that I was born in Canada. I am luckier than most gay people as well, both globally, and within Canada. Yet I do go around in pity for myself a lot of the time. There is a lot to be learned from Tony Soprano, I know that I have learned a lot. Gay people need to constantly remind themselves that a lot of the prejudice they face comes not from hatred, but from confusion or inexperience. My Dad was very angry when I came out, he said very hurtful things, but I was essentially the first gay person that he knew, he could just not process that his son was gay. I gave him some slack, and he has proven that with time, anyone can come to understand and accept.

Today is Canada Day. I am a proud Canadian, as proud as they get if you ask me. This country has allowed me to be completely open about my sexuality, to love my partner completely, fully, and openly, and at the same time achieve what anyone else in this society can achieve. I love this country, and it loves me, and for that I am truly blessed.

July 1, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment

Of course Albertans will pay more, and they should because they pollute more

It is getting frustrating reading all over about how Albertans will pay the largest portion of the Liberals proposed Green Shift carbon tax.  Of course Albertans will pay the most, they pump the most carbon into the environment.  Why should Alberta get to reap the benefits of the oil-sands and conventional oil production, releasing massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the environment, reaping huge economic benefits, and not be expected to pay for the environmental costs?  The Alberta government could help consumers avoid drastic carbon taxes by requiring oil-sands operations to capture and sequester carbon dioxide emissions, ditto for coal burning power plants.

I am tired of politicians kowtowing to Alberta.  Alberta is responsible for a large share of Canada’s overall greenhouse gas emissions, and they benefit enormously economically from dumping GHGs into the environment.  Albertans should have to bear a large share of the costs associated with reducing GHGs, just as they have reaped the benefits of the oil-sands and conventional oil production.

June 24, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Greg Weston, like many people, seems to be missing the point

Just read this commentary by Greg Weston which points out that Stephane Dion’s carbon shift plan would cause significant increases in electricity bills for families outside of Quebec (though presumably not very significant increases in BC where large amounts of the electricity is provided through hydro, like Quebec).  Weston is probably right that electricity bills will rise significantly under Dion’s proposal, but this is the point of the Green Shift.  Charge people more for things that pollute while giving them a break on things that we want to encourage, like income.  I find it odd that Weston, and many others, point out a rise in energy costs under the plan as a huge negative.  That is the plan, that is how it is intended to work.  If people want to avoid paying such high electricity bills, or home heating bills, they can take steps to reduce their electricity consumption and better insulate and heat their homes.

The point of the Green Shift is to encourage people to change their energy consumption patterns.  We want energy costs to rise so that people will consume less, or consume better (fuel efficient furnaces, energy smart appliances, better home insulation, etc.).  I wish that commentators like Greg Weston would point out that Canadians can avoid the harshest effects of the Green Shift by changing their energy consumption.

June 24, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

if life were a movie I would be at about the 20 minute mark

Today I wrote what should be the final school exam of my life.  I would say that today I finished law school but I will not actually be finished until I receive my grades later in May.  For now I will just hope that I am finished (odds are very good that I will in fact graduate).  I stand at about the 20 minute mark in the movie that is my life.  At about this time in a movie there is a major change in the direction that the story is going.  The first 20 minutes help to establish the characters, the setting, and some of the plot, and then at about 20 minutes (earlier for really short films, later for really long films) the story really starts to take off.  Where will my story go?  I have no clue really.  All I can really hope is that my life, like any good movie, has an interesting and unique plot twist.

April 28, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment