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POLICE ASSOCIATION OF NOVA SCOTIA 105 Crime, Punishment and Safety Making conduct criminal is society's ultimate condemnation. The purpose of criminal law was originally to punish the perpetrators of serious misdeeds such as assault, robbery, rape and murder. Canadaʼs prison statistics reflect a rising use of criminal law. Since the mid 1980s, this country ís incarceration rate has become one of the highest among Western-style democracies, second only to the US. More and more people are going to jail, but crime rates have been dropping. There is pressure to use the Criminal Code of Canada as a preventive tool on the premise that criminal penalties act as a deterrent. The “spanking law” is a recent example. In 2003, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld a decision by the Ontario Court of Appeal to allow parents to use reasonable force to discipline children. The appeal court said that no other country in the world has criminalized all forms of physical punishment by parents. The push to criminalize unsafe or potentially harmful behaviour raises important public policy issues. Are criminal penalties a more effective tool than less severe regulatory sanctions to prevent unsafe acts? Is the public better protected when unsafe behaviour is treated as a criminal offence rather than a regulatory or administrative matter? Do harsher punishments for unsafe behaviour bring corresponding improvements in public safety? Criminal Offences and Regulatory Violations Under Canadaʼs constitution, the federal government is responsible for criminal law. On the other hand, provincial and territorial regulations cover many aspects of day-to-day safety. This division of powers is unique to our country, making international comparisons difficult. Occupational health and safety has always been regulated by provincial and territorial legislation. However, in 2003 the federal government stepped in, to make organizations and individuals criminally liable for harm caused at work. Bill C-45 was a response to the deaths of 26 miners in May 1992 in an explosion at the Westray Mine in Nova Scotia. Provincial and territorial highway traffic acts regulate driving violations such as speeding and failure to stop at a red light. However, impaired driving offences are crimes. In fact, impaired operation of a vehicle is the single largest category of charges under the Criminal Code of Canada, accounting for 12 per cent of all criminal offences. Drivers with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) above 0.08 are subject to criminal penalties because of the likelihood that they will cause harm. Drinking drivers with BACs below 0.08 are subject to roadside licence suspensions under most highway traffic acts. Regulatory and administrative sanctions, such as fines and licence suspensions, protect the public by providing a swift and certain response. In contrast, criminal justice is a complex process. In cases which would be straightforward if a regulatory approach were used, a criminal court may not be able to convict. Canada Safety Council C A N A D A ’ S V O I C E A N D R E S O U R C E F O R S A F E T Y continued...

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