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Harper, Oppal in opposing gangs on sentences

Maybe it's just as well that B.C.'s Attorney General Wally Oppal is in Ottawa today and missed Prime Minister Stephen Harper's get-tough-on-crime appearance in Vancouver this morning.

Harper announced longer mandatory sentences for certain crimes. The new laws, which both the federal NDP and Liberals have said they will support, will set a minimum 25 years in prison with no parole for gang-related killings and at least four years for a drive-by shooting.

“The truth of the matter is those who say that tougher penalties on perpetrators do not work don’t want them to,” Harper said today, the Tyee reported.

But just 17 days ago Oppal, a judge before he entered politics, debunked the idea that tougher sentences deter crimes. “I know that people who commit crimes do not always go to Martin's Criminal Code before committing their crimes,” he said on Feb. 9 when he released a review that compared B.C.'s average sentences to those in other provinces.

“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.”

Speaking about gangs in particular, he said that people who are willing to risk death are highly unlikely to be deterred by tougher penalties.

Oppal and Solicitor General John van Dongen are in Ottawa today to lobby for new measures, other than tougher sentences, to fight gang crime.

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

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