The national debate sparked by the Harper government’s “tough on crime” nonsense* hasn’t addressed a basic question: why have we been jailing so many people in the first place? Let me hasten to answer my own query in the case of violent, dangerous criminals—it’s because we’re afraid of them, and we want them kept far away from us as possible, under close supervision. No problem there: rehabilitation of such people is a concept about which I, for one, remain sceptical.
But consider the case of Phillip Shaqu.
Shaqu is a 50-year-old homeless Inuk man in Ottawa with a hearing disability and a problem with alcohol. Having had a few, he refused to leave a homeless shelter, and kicked and shoved police officers trying to remove him. He got the worst of it—a gash on his forehead requiring nine stitches.
He pleaded guilty to assault, resisting arrest and causing a disturbance.
The judge noted that Shaqu, originally from Iqaluit, used to stay outside the house as a child until his mother passed out, to avoid being abused.
Shaqu received his first criminal conviction in 1981 in Iqaluit and has been in and out of trouble with the law ever since, [his lawyer Paul] Lewandowski said. He struggles to communicate, Lewandowski added, which became apparent when Shaqu tried to address the judge in stilted English.
Shaqu was given 42 days of credit for the time he had already spent in jail.
He reportedly “strained to hear” as the judge sentenced him to a further eight days behind bars.
Can anyone explain to me what conceivable social purpose is achieved by jailing this man, with his personal history and a problem now recognized as an illness, after a trial in a language he barely understands?
* $5 billion worth of new prisons to house unreported criminals, and mandatory minimum sentences so that rascally Liberal-appointed judges won’t coddle the decreasing number of criminals actually brought to justice.