I ask the above question based on a comment made by Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Colleen Suche in her recent sentencing decision for killer Daniel Peterson.

I ask you consider it carefully:

Although it is trite in legal terms to say that a sentence does not speak to the value of a life, this is not always understood by the public, and for families often difficult to accept.  Nothing will bring James Cruickshank back, nothing can remedy the harm that has been done by the taking of his life, and shattering the lives of his family.  However, the law does not seek revenge:  the notion of an eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth is not part of our society.  Rather, the law seeks retribution; that is, an objective, measured determination of an appropriate punishment which properly reflects the moral culpability of an offender, having regard to his intentional risk taking, the consequential harm caused by his behaviour, and the normative character of the behaviour. (Full decision is here)

After reading the above, I now ask you to consider the comments left on this story involving a teen who viciously robbed a man and left him essentially for dead in a back lane. It’s just one in a long list of stories where – anonymously, anyways — people appear to be thirsting for vengeance as a response to violent crime.

It’s pretty evident that Suche’s assessment conflicts with a significant sector of public sentiment, as right or wrong the ‘hang ’em high’ crowd may or may not be.

I make no personal judgement on Suche’s statement. I’m just noting it’s stuck in my head since reading it earlier today.

Philosophically speaking, is the “our society” Suche referring to the ideal one we’d all like to see?  Or is it a mirage?

Just asking.

9 thoughts on “Are our courts in tune with society’s reality?

  1. Well, Suche is correct: it seems to me that this is effectively the point of our iteration of the justice system: i to protect people and society from the thirst for vengeance that can infect the masses as well as the powerful elite. I don’t see her statement as a denial of the existence of that desire — I just see it as a statement that our society is not organized to include a mechanism to mete out or tolerate revenge.

    1. Interesting. But if enough people voice they want ‘revenge’ would the courts have to take that focus into account? Or would the response be like adults patting kids on the head saying ‘one day, you’ll understand?’

  2. I think we sometimes don’t understand that our current “justice” is for offenders. We have a “social safety net” for victims. Currently, I don’t think either is in accordance with our collective will and idea of justice. Perhaps we need to re-think both.

  3. I think that one of the key things to remember – or perhaps that I assure myself with – is the fact that commenting on articles on the Internet tends to bring out, for the most part, those on either extreme end of a large spectrum. Working in social services as I do, and associating with co-workers who have similar mindsets to my own, I often find myself shocked or outraged by the commentary I read online (I think to myself, “people still think like that?”). “An eye for an eye” (and sometimes worse) is how too many who choose to use this mode of expression think.

    I am thankful that our justice system does NOT reflect the opinions of these members of “our society.”

    Now, having said that, I will confess that my own opinions are on the opposite end of that large spectrum I spoke of earlier. I’m not even of the retribution (punishment) mindset. I believe than even in the justice system, people should have consequences (not punishment) for their behaviour. In many cases, the sentences given out could be thought of as consequences – you break the law, you lose the privilege of having freedom (and of course I get that those I disagree with would say “an eye for an eye” IS the consequence) – but it is the terminology I struggle with (i.e. retribution/punishment). My sense of justice for a crime committed would result in a combination of consequences and the protection of law abiding citizens.

    Hmmm. Now that I think about it, I guess it isn’t the two ends of the spectrum that express themselves again and again online… or I, on the extreme other end, would be doing it too. For me, commenting on online news articles happens only when I’m particularly outraged by the commentary I’ve read. I usually regret it afterwards. While I can understand where that thinking comes from (I’ve spent a fair amount of time around folks who think that way), I don’t agree with it.

    I agree with Melissa that “…the point of our iteration of the justice system: i to protect people and society from the thirst for vengeance that can infect the masses as well as the powerful elite.” At the same time, I no longer respond “like adults patting kids on the head saying ‘one day, you’ll understand.’” Yes, I have in the past. Unfortunately, I now know that for many people that will never be true.

    So, if we can say that ‘vengeance’ is on one end of the spectrum with ‘consequences’ on the other, perhaps the society Suche refers to is indeed the one we find ourselves in currently.

    1. Thanks for the thoughtful reply, Barb.

      A followup question, though, would be: If the comment swamp produces nothing of actual value to the discussion/furtherance of society/issues/understanding as a whole, why have them?

      And also, I might add — your response is perhaps a good indication of why I’ve been wrestling with this question all day now. e.g.: if ‘vengeance’ is a consequence on the spectrum of sanctions for criminal conduct.

      1. Is that what the comment swamp is supposed to be for, “…the discussion/furtherance of society/issues/understanding as a whole?” I’ve never known what the purpose was; the comment sections just seemed to appear one day. Honestly, I’m not sure comment sections serve any real value. Well, except on a forum such as this. 🙂

        Maybe that’s not quite fair. There are times when there is some of that good stuff you mention and I’m pleasantly surprised; when I learn something new that causes me to seek more information or have an opportunity to think of something in a way I hadn’t thought of before. Unfortunately, that has become so rare I often don’t allow myself to read them any more. (I can find enough things in my everyday life to be outraged about. I don’t have to go looking in places I know will upset me. ;))

        I have noticed recently though that when comments aren’t allowed (usually for legal reasons), the swamp dwellers can get irate; at times commenting on another article and complaining that comments are closed on the one they really want to comment on. I think the comment sections are expected now, Although those that would be most angry about them being gone are in the minority, they are a very loud minority. Loud often isn’t right, but it does get heard.

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