When one of Canada’s most notorious rapists was granted day parole this summer, many people were angry at the justice system. Larry Takahashi, dubbed the baclava rapist, had been given three life sentences in 1984, following a conviction of 14 charges including four counts of rape, sexual assault with a weapon, and six counts of disguise with intent.
Still, he was free to roam around Vancouver on parole this summer.
But what could the average citizen do other than gripe to friends and neighbours?
Anyone can start an e-petition to Parliament, says Chilliwack-Hope MP Mark Strahl. Right now, he is promoting one created by a constituent in this riding, Don Green, which seeks to strengthen sentencing for sex offenders.
Green’s petition was borne out of frustrations with how the justice system has handled Takahashi’s case, and Strahl says he’s equally concerned.
They met, and Green asked Strahl, “how can I make a difference?”
“I told him the one thing you can do is put forward a petition to show how you would like to see things changed,” Strahl said. “When this is tabled in the house, and it will be, it forces the government to respond to your suggestion. It’s a way to have your voice heard.”
Green’s petition asks for four main changes to the Criminal Code, including increasing the mandatory minimum sentences for sexual crimes against children, and increasing the period of parole ineligibility for persons convicted of sexual crimes against children.
The petition also asks the government to automatically designate persons convicted of multiple sexual crimes against a child or children as dangerous offenders, and ensure that criminals convicted of multiple sexual offences against a child or children serve their sentences consecutively.
Currently serial sex offenders can serve their sentences concurrently, leading to a quicker release from prison. Green’s petition also states that people convicted of sexual offences against children are often eligible for parole just months after sentencing.
The petition was created on Nov. 14, and will remain open for digital signatures for five months, ending March 14, 2017.
Strahl is looking forward to bringing the e-petition to the House of Commons in March, to address these issues head on.
“I think sexual crimes against children are the worst of the worst crimes, and so do most Canadians,” he said. Unfortunately, the disgust in these types are not leading to a decrease in occurrences, he added.
“I think that is the real tragedy of sexual crimes against children,” he explains. “It is the one area where the crime rate continues to go up. While violent crime like murders and assault are down, sexual offences against children are on the rise.”
Asked whether he feels the internet has led to an increase in this behaviour, he said “I think it doesn’t help.”
The Conservative government, under Stephen Harper, increased the age of consent from 14 to 16 and created minimum maximum sentencing for sex offenders. It’s a move that Strahl concedes is not popular with many lawyers and judges, as it takes certain powers away from the bench.
However, it’s a system he feels is important to adhere to, especially in regards to sexual crimes against children.
The Liberal-led government will be looking at the Criminal Code in its entirety, and making recommendations when that review is done. It’s an onerous overhaul, Strahl says, of a massive document.
“I think it’s very, very ambitious,” Strahl said, adding “I hope it doesn’t lead to paralysis (of the task).”
The e-petition (e-624) is open to signing by anyone in Canada, and on Thursday had 88 signatures. That’s well past the minimum threshold of 25 signatures, and will be brought up by Strahl when it’s complete. The process is an easy way to be heard, Strahl said.
“I think Canadians sometimes see a case where they don’t feel justice is being done,” he said. “Don said he was sick and tired of these crimes being treated lightly. I think it’s healthy for democracy for everyday citizens to engage, go online, and sign the petition. It gives them a feeling they can make their feelings known.”
He hopes the new government does not undo some of the tougher changes made to the Criminal Code, such as minimum mandatory sentencing, as he feels most Canadians support those amendments.
“We made no apologies for being a tough on crime government,” he said of the Conservatives. “Mandatory sentencing for sexual crimes against children is a no-brainer.”
Strahl urged his Facebook followers to sign the petition this week.
“Sexual crimes against children are increasing in Canada, and many are still left unreported,” he said. The e-petition is available on the Parliament of Canada’s website.