Judge takes issue with tough-on-crime remarks
P.E.I.'s top provincial court judge is speaking out against allegations by Charlottetown's mayor that the justice system is to blame for some of the city's property crime.
Mayor Clifford Lee recently suggested the courts were partly to blame because they were releasing too many people immediately after they were charged.
Judge John Douglas told CBC News Wednesday that locking up everyone before they're convicted isn't the answer.
"The presumption of innocence is not a protection for the guilty. It's there to protect you and I," said Douglas.
"Any attempt to reduce that presumption or limit its effect should be resisted."
Of about 30 people charged with property crimes in the past two months in the city, roughly half were released while waiting for a trial date.
"Police have to release a person charged, unless they can prove to a justice of the peace that there's a reason to keep them in custody," said Douglas.
"There are occasions where someone who has been charged with an offence will commit another offence while awaiting trial, but I wouldn't use the term 'often.'"
Douglas said of the group released in the last couple of months, he is aware of just one who committed another offence.
"To protect society … from the one or two that do recommit, doesn't make sense," he said.
"There's an enormous cost. You're sending people off to crime school."
Douglas said he uses the term "crime school" because he believes sending people to jail sometimes connects them to other, more hardened criminals who are a bad influence. A day in jail is also expensive, costing the province up to $200 a day.
"Certainly I'm not going to argue with the learned judge," said Lee after hearing Douglas's comments, but he still believes there is more that could be done to curtail property crime.
"Let's come together, bring our police department, the justice system, the judges, the JPs, our attorney general, and involve whoever we need to involve to come up with a plan that deals with real issue here. For someone to be picked up at four o'clock tomorrow morning and be back on the street by lunch time that very same day, in my view, simply, is not dealing with the situation."
Some options could include more addiction counseling or tougher sentences, he said.
Douglas said there may be a perception that the justice system is soft on criminals, but in his view that is not the case.