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BC sentences for crime as tough as anywhere in Canada: Oppal

People are wrong if they believe criminals in British Columbia receive lighter sentences than what they would get in other parts of Canada, Attorney General Wally Oppal said today.

He made the comments while releasing a November, 2008, report the B.C. government commissioned from criminologists Anthony Doob at the University of Toronto and Cheryl Webster at the University of Ottawa.

“They have concluded that the issue of leniency is more one of perception than one of fact,” said Oppal about the 94-page report. “The fact is it is their view that while there are some sentences that are lower here in British Columbia for comparable offenses than in other parts of Canada, there are other offenses that offenders receive substantially longer terms of imprisonment.”

The public often reacts to violent crime with calls for longer sentences, said Oppal, who worked as a judge before running for office. People believe longer sentences would deter crime, he said, but they are wrong.

“If you look at what's happening in the U.S. where they have longer jail terms than any other Western democracy, we know that their streets are not safer,” said Oppal. “In fact most American cities have higher crime rates than any other Western democracy.”

Oppal said he has been critical of some sentences in the past, and he believes sentences have to be meaningful if they are going to keep the public confident in the justice system. “On the other hand I know that people who commit crimes do not always go to Martin's Criminal Code before committing their crimes.”

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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