In the Vancouver Sun, Peter McKnight argues just that, on the grounds that the aboriginal prison population keeps rising, ‘lighter’ sentences often aren’t, and they provide more opportunity for rehabilitation.
His suggestion that the court system has an institutional bias against aboriginals is silly, but I think this is still a reasonable position. If different groups have different capacities, then they also can’t be held to the same standards. (However, a better solution might be to punish the members of some groups more brutally and with more immediacy in order for the lessons to stick. I’m not sure.)
Yesterday I mentioned the (Canadian) Supreme Court’s ruling that aboriginals must receive special consideration is sentencing.
Jonathan Kay thinks that at least in the case that incited the ruling, this is hopeless:
If only taking the monster out of the man were that easy. The whole concept of “alternative sentencing” for aboriginals — encoded in Section 718.2(e) of the Criminal Code — is built on the idea that natives somehow can be deprogrammed from crime if they are permitted to reconnect with their communities in a positive way. And no doubt, that sort of special treatment may work for, say, young runaways from aboriginal reserves who fall prey to big-city gang life. But it is naïve to think that men such as Ladue and Ipeelee belong anywhere except prison.
There’s no question that Ladue and Ipeelee are both monsters and victims of tragic circumstances:
Ipeelee, a 39-year-old Inuk from Iqaluit, had an alcoholic mother who died when he was a child. Ipeelee himself was an alcoholic by the time he was 12.
Before he turned 19, he already had 36 convictions. Several of them involved instances in which he had beaten other men into submission — and then continued stomping on their heads even after they had lost consciousness. In another case, he raped a homeless woman while punching her in the face.
The justices are wrestling (not necessarily very well) with what is known in philosophy as the problem of moral luck. In my view, moral luck represents an irresolvable tension at the heart of moral thought.
Today’s Globe and Mail:
The Supreme Court of Canada has issued an iron-clad edict that sentencing judges must search out lenient or creative sentences for aboriginal offenders that recognize the oppressive cultural conditions many have grown up with.
I would imagine that many criminals have tragic pasts, regardless of ethnic background.
However. I assume that aboriginal crime mostly affects aboriginals. And having a bunch of aboriginals locked up also mostly affects aboriginals. If this is what aboriginals want (and the article says that it is, at least in the case that triggered this ruling), then it’s probably good to let them have it.