Jean-Luc Dutil, a former Quebec Court judge and the head an extensive probe into organized crime that marked Quebec during the 1970s, passed away, ravaged by a cancer in the space of less than two months.
A 25-year old Montrealer cannot enter a movie theatre nor own any recording device for the next two years after being convicted of illegally copying the film Dan In Real Life with a camcorder in a cinema.
Louis René Haché, the first Canadian to be charged under Canada’s tougher piracy laws and the second to be convicted, was caught red-handed on a late Friday night 18 months ago, comfortably ensconced in his chair, his girlfriend by his side, with a digital camcorder atop a tripod recording Steve Carell’s comedy.
In the works for the past two years, the Montreal Municipal Court became the latest jurisdiction in Canada to launch a mental health court even though a coalition of local community organizations sought a moratorium and a study to examine the effectiveness of specialized courts for mentally ill people.
Modelled after the Toronto Mental Health Court, the three-year pilot project has put in place a multidisciplinary team to deal with mentally ill people charged with minor criminal offenses. Based on a therapeutic model of criminal justice that seeks to provide a dignified and compassionate approach to dealing with accused persons afflicted with mental illness or developmental disabilities, the Court sits five days a week during the afternoons.
A 93-year old man who sexually abused his daughters nearly fifty years go was condemned to two years less a day to be served in the community due to his advanced age and health problems.
Philippe Hamelin, convicted on a number of charges, including incest, sexual molestation and assault causing bodily harm for incidents that took place between 1956 and 1963, is now deaf and nearly blind, has skin cancer and suffers from a disease akin to Alzheimer’s.
The Crown was seeking a prison sentence of between seven and nine years while Hamelin’s lawyer had asked for two years less a day in the community.
Quebec Court Judge André Perreault decided against a prison sentence because of Perrault’s frail health.
“Mr. Hamelin might very well have been given that seven-year sentence if the decision needed to have been made during the decades that followed the crimes, even if he were old and had certain health problems,” Justice Perreault, noting that the convicted molester was unrepentant. “Only the exceptional circumstances I have described regarding Mr. Hamelin’s current health lead me to stray so far, and for humanitarian reasons, from imposing a normal sentence.”
Dealing with the elderly is a thorny issue that the justice system must grapple with, sooner or later. In Canada, older offenders account for 13% of the offender population. A 2004 report by the U.S. National Institute of Corrections found that the number of state and federal prisoners ages 50 or older rose 172 percent between 1992 and 2001.
The Correctional Service of Canada noted that “the combination of the physical health problems and the type of health care available at the prison often requires that the older offender be transferred to community medical facilities” – an expensive endeavour.
Another report concludes: “The incarceration of older prisoners, who represent the smallest threat to public safety but the largest cost to taxpayers to imprison, exemplifies failed public policy that favours imprisonment over more cost-effective alternatives.”
England too is wrestling with the issue. Anne Owers, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons since 2001, examined the issue of older prisoners in England and Wales in a comprehensive 126-page report and concluded that “the prison system in general is ill-equipped to meet their needs and its responsibilities.” The prison watchdog recently lamented that little has changed since the report was published four years ago.