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A Summary & Critique Of "What Is A Crime? Challenges And Alternatives"

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Summary & Critique


"What is a Crime? Challenges and Alternatives"

By: Jeffery Kennedy

ID#: 1557881

Course: SOCI 225

Section: 201/211


The discussion paper 'What is a Crime? Challenges and Alternatives' was written by the Law Commission of Canada (LCC). With accordance with federal law, the LCC is required to review the laws of Canada to determine if they still meet the needs of society. The paper will discuss the different strategies used in Canadian society to prevent or deter crime. It will examine the many contradictions and ambiguities that exist in Canadian Law, as well the many organizations that determine how we perceive the line between acceptable and unwanted behaviour. The paper will explore the values need to determine is unwanted conduct and how to fix it.

The Paper is split into six sections. Section one is the Introduction, which gives the reader some indication of what to expect from the paper. Section two discusses the question of 'What is a Crime?' and how the criminal law ignores the marginalized groups in society. Section three is deals with the 'Other Intervention Strategies in Society' that are alternative methods to the criminal law. Section four looks into the "Democratic Values and Intervention Strategies', basically how values determine when and how we deal with harmful behaviour. Section five talks about the 'Challenges for Our Society', what we need to overcome in order to understand and deal with unwanted behaviour. The final section are the LCC's conclusions, it also allows the readers to ponder about the different ways they can intervene in unwanted behaviour. That was a brief summary of what the paper holds within its pages.


The LCC's paper is an interesting piece of work. It is very informative and leaves the reader with a thought in his/her head. Though it was a captivating read it still had its share of strengthens and weaknesses. The paper touches on a few key issues that are important to today's society. In section two 'What is a Crime?', the paper goes into a discussion about criminal law and harm touching on the issue of gambling. In the third section 'Other Intervention Strategies in Society', they discuss the alternative strategies, most notably a therapeutic approach as well the use of surveillance. Within the context of the paper, it is clear that the LCC ignored a few key issues concerning the therapeutic model and the use surveillance. They barely scratch the surface of the harmful effects caused by some forms of gambling

One of the strengths of this paper is that it recognizes the problem with a therapeutic approach in response to crime. The LCC (2003) made it quite clear that there are certain concerns when dealing with crime in this way. They point out that people that have been labeled as a 'sick person' may be considered as unable to function in society, and therefore may be institutionalized. By defining a problem as a 'sickness', the jurisdiction is then placed under the healthcare professionals (LCC 2003). These points shows us how calling a problem a disease just end up spawning new problems. A good example is the insanity plea, if a serial murderer can pull off a convincing psychotic behaviour, (i.e. Multiple Personality Disorder) then the judge may rule the person criminally insane, and thus landing the person in a mental institution instead of a federal prison. Since the person has now been labeled as 'sick', s/he will be seen as a person who requires help and healing instead of criminal who needs to be punished. However, the LCC (2003) makes it a point to show that this method can also lead to harsher punishments, with the example of the United States reformed justice system during the 60's and 70's. Another good point is the economic gap that exists within the society. If people are unable to afford the treatment they need, they can be seen as more criminal do to their 'sicknesses. This strength however, ignores a major factor between crime and the therapeutic approach.

Though the LCC (2003) made some good points about the problem with the therapeutic model, they completely ignored the gendered-bias aspect to therapeutic method. According to Hackler (2003), females are more likely to get a clinical evaluation when committing a crime, than males would. As well, they are more likely to be seen as a pitiful victim when committing serious offences, where as men will be viewed as deserving of their punishments. This sexist attitude with the therapeutic approach is fairly concerning problem. Women are mostly seen as mentally ill when they do not perform in the traditional ways. Throughout history, the justice system has been lenient on women; this is due to our male-dominated justice system. By seeing a woman as mentally ill and a man as mentally stable when they committed the same crime, just shows that this leniency from the past is still as much a part of our justice system than it ever was. The therapeutic model gives the justice system the ability to give women the benefit of doubt. A good example of this is if a wife killed her husband. The wife could have Battered Wife Syndrome (Hackler, 2003) and that is why they killed their husbands. This diagnosis shows more leniencies towards women do to a mental problem. By ignoring the gendered-bias aspect of the therapeutic approach, the LCC does not acknowledge the fact that Canadian Justice System has a sexist aspect to it.

In the second section, the LCC (2003) makes some good points when it comes to gambling. They state that it is both harmful to the individual and to society. The harm to the individual comes from an addiction that can get them in to trouble with the wrong kind of people (i.e. loan sharks). In turn society is hurt with the negative impact the addict leaves in it's wake (i.e. family members and friends, costs of treatment). They also made a good point about how over the years there has been an increase in government-run casinos, but they still criminalize private forms of gambling (LCC 2003). The government acknowledges the harmful effects of a problem gambler and yet they continue to support gambling by creating



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