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Against “Son of Sam” Legislation

Unpublished letter to the editor submitted to the Vancouver Sun, April 1997

By Kay Stockholder

The Government has succeeded in rushing through Parliament Bill C-95, aimed at Quebec gangs, and would like to get Bill C-205, the “Son of Sam” bill through as well. It wants these bills passed before the election so that it can go on the hustings with proof that it has gotten tough on crime and is on the side of law and order.

Bill C-95 does not limit its application to those involved in violent crimes. Rather, it defines gangs as a group of five or more devoted to encouraging any action that would result in an indictable offence. This definition would include almost any group devoted to various forms of political dissent, as well as a host of minor crimes.

By increasing police discretion in using electronic surveillance, it erodes privacy protections, and by imposing on members of such groups convicted of crimes the severe penalties the bill mandates, it effectively would limit freedom of association, even though it claims not to do so.

Bill C-95 would make it a criminal offence for anyone convicted of any indictable crime—again, not only of violent crimes—to make money from a published work that recounts an offence, and the surrounding circumstances, of which the person has been convicted. Though the Bill is aimed at preventing people like Bernardo and Homolka from profiting by their horrible crimes, it has, like Bill C-205, a much wider reach.

It is crafted to make it appear that it is not interfering with freedom of speech by expressly excluding from the reach of the criminal law the act of writing of publishing a book as such. However, it effectively would make it impossible for most people to publish any book that describes any act of civil disobedience or political dissent that resulted in a conviction for an indictable crime. Both of these bills raise more general issues:

  1. Since they both clearly raise Charter issues, it is evident that their crafters are concerned only with having “goodies” with which to entice votes, and are indifferent, not only to the civil liberties they threaten, but to the enormous costs that are involved in Charter litigation. The government aborted the Somalia inquiry because of professed concerns for the taxpayers money, but they are entirely indifferent to the fate of taxpayers’ money when it comes to passing sloppy legislation and leaving it to the courts to clean it up. They are also indifferent to the consequences for the principles of Canadian governance that are involved in encouraging the proliferation of court made law.
  2. One reason that the government must resort to bills that concern the Criminal Code for election appeal is that it has downloaded so much of its power over social programs to the provinces, thereby eliminating them from the matter that constitutes Canadian nationhood. It has also depleted the sense of Canadian identity by decimating the CBC. As a consequence it has fewer resources to generate a sense of the importance of the federal government, but some things it does have are the criminal law, defence, and the powers of taxation. Since taxation policies are not likely at the present time to be a rich source of popular election issues, and the ill-fated Somalia inquiry casts dubious light on the Defense establishment, that leaves the criminal law. Such a situation can raise rather frightening spectres for the future.