The Victim Surcharge does not Rehabilitate

Does Canada’s Minister of Justice Peter MacKay know the difference between a restitution order and the victim surcharge?

Peter MacKay was asked for his thoughts on an Ottawa judge who ruled that the new mandatory victim surcharge was unconstitutional.  MacKay was quoted as saying:

I say follow the letter of the law and review it later if it is discovered that there isn’t the ability to make payment. I don’t think that at the time of the offence, malady that is the best assessment that can be made of the offender’s ability to make restitution.

Does the minister know that an offender’s ability to make restitution is discretionary (“the offender may … make restitution to another person”)? Does he know that the victim surcharge found at s. 737 of the Criminal Code is mandatory (“the offender … shall pay a victim surcharge”)?

The victim surcharge is a crime tax. It is mandatory and an offender’s ability to pay is irrelevant. When the minister says that “if it is discovered that there isn’t ability to make payment” and it can be “review[ed] … later” that is a nonsensical statement. The section is clear: an inability to pay doesn’t matter. The offender has no recourse other than presumably asking the court for more time to pay – like say another 10, cialis 20, look or 30 years — which is the amount of time to pay that some judges have been giving to offenders to begin with.

The other problem is the minister’s use of the term “rehabilitation”.  If a person breaks their neighbour’s window, for example, and the owner spends $100 to replace that window and the offender pays that $100 he would have made restitution but would still be required to pay a $100 victim surcharge.  So what does the minister mean by saying that the victim surcharge is part of his rehabilitation? There’s no evidence that the surcharge will have any rehabilitative effect whatsoever. This is about pure punishment and extracting money from an offender.

Also odd was MacKay’s claim that “we should err on the side of giving offenders the opportunity to make that payment. For some offenders, this is their preference as well. They actually want to make some form of restitution and compensation. It’s part of their rehabilitation.”

So a person who’s been convicted and sentenced; who spends time in a cage; who’s then released and supervised by a probation officer; who must live forever with a criminal record; who lives with the shame/guilt/remorse of their crime; who’s employment opportunities become limited; who may not be able to travel to other countries and who had to dip into his savings or borrow money to hire a lawyer will not fully understand what rehabilitation means unless they’re able pay a $100 tax? Minister you cannot be serious.

But this is just more of the same from a government that doesn’t really care about the practical ramifications of their dumb-on-crime agenda. This victim surcharge has nothing to do with rehabilitation. It has everything to do with punishment and taxing crime.

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