Crime & Punishment in Canada

by Owen Carrigan,
ISBN: 0771018924

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The Facts of the Case
by Royce MacGillivray

AS OF THE DATE of writing, I have never been mugged. Apart from petty thefts, mainly of school equipment and personal objects in my high school days, I have never been the victim of crime in any way. If I had been, I might or might not have remained a suitable reviewer for this book. I should most likely, in small ways or large, have been a different kind of reviewer. Yet many books on crime try to treat it as if crime were something that "happened" - without happening to anyone in particular. Not so this book by D. Owen Carrigan, the former president of Saint Mary's University in Halifax. The book is divided into two parts. The first is a fluently written narrative of the history of crime in Canada from the days of the French Regime to the present. The second part lucidly and concisely reports on the treatment of criminals in Canada during the same period. This is very much a layperson's history of those things. We are given many facts, but very little theory. Carrigan praises the advances that have been made since the 19th century in the humane treatment of prisoners, yet he is uncompromising in his recognition that crime is a social nuisance, and is rightly put down by the authorities. He sums up gloomily:

Currently the entire system that deals with crime and criminals is uncertain, chaotic, and largely unproductive. As Peter McMurtry, a Toronto probation officer with thirty years' experience, put it, "It is hard to be caught, harder to be convicted and hardest still to go to jail."

This is very much a book of the 1990s. The retreat from various old certainties is marked in every chapter; the certainties of the "good old days" most obviously. A mere 50 years ago, the whole community reacted against serious crime with a severity, and even ferocity, it is difficult to imagine happening today. Readers of old Canadian newspapers on microfilm find themselves astonished by the speed of Canadian justice, a speed uncomplicated as yet by self-questioning. Let me try to upstage Carrigan by taking an example not in his wonderfully comprehensive book. In Cornwall, Ontario, in November, 192 1, within a period of about six hours, a gang of burglars was captured, sentenced, and started on their way to Kingston Penitentiary to begin their five-year terms. But we have also retreated far from the giddy theorizing of the 1960s. Remember when numbers of otherwise intelligent people were capable of arguing that the punishment of crime was simply a form of class control? And even that criminals, properly considered, were in a sense natural Marxists, working for humanity and not against it?

Carrigan includes many case histories of crime and punishment that add immediacy to his book. There are two long chapters on "The Female Offender" and the "Treatment of the Female Offender," and the variety of crime is recognized in discussions of political corruption, white-collar crime, the liquor and drug trade, the Mafia, and motorcycle gangs.


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