There is a better alternative than jailing chronic offenders, says Osgoode prof

In cities across Canada there are hundreds of chronic offenders, wrote James Morton, adjunct professor in York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, in a column for the National Post Aug. 7. Vancouver alone has 379. According to a recent report by the Vancouver Police Department, the vast majority are addicted to drugs or alcohol. Many also suffer from a mental disorder, generally untreated. As a group, those few hundred chronic offenders were responsible for 26,755 police contacts between 2001 and 2006 – more than 5,000 contacts per year, 14 a day. The costs are staggering. Arrests, prosecutions and incarcerations end up costing some $20,000 per criminal per month. There has to be a better way, and there is.

The first step is to recognize that the issue is one of both public health and criminal law. The next step is to include compulsory drug treatment, as a trial program in Australia’s New South Wales is doing.

In principle, it seems unfair and arguably unjust for a court to impose mandatory drug withdrawal and psychiatric treatment. Most people do not want to be treated against their will, even for a serious illness. Canadians feel strongly about the right to choose what to do with their own bodies and that is usually appropriate. But our moral intuitions can fail us when it comes to the few hard cases, which include chronic offenders.

We have to move on from the “war on crime” to an approach that will protect society while rehabilitating those who can be rehabilitated. This means making some tough choices. But these choices can be avoided no longer.

News flash: Toronto to get second university

50 YEARS AGO: The Globe and Mail reported in its Aug. 6, 1958 edition that Toronto would have a second university, to be called York University College, with courses to start in the fall of 1959, wrote the Globe in its "From the Archives" feature Aug. 6.

The Olympics and phantom games

The Beijing Olympics of 2008 are sometimes described as No. XXlX. The Roman numerals infer an unbroken line for the modern games from their 1896 start. Not so. In reality these are games XXVl, wrote Frank Cosentino, professor emeritus in York’s Faculty of Health, in the Ottawa Citizen Aug. 7.

There were no competitions in 1916. Berlin was the designated site, but with the First World War in progress, the games were cancelled. Similarly in 1940 (Tokyo) and 1944 (London), the Second World War was the culprit. In Olympic lore however, official recognition was given: Berlin Vl, Tokyo Xll and London Xlll.

Making the situation odder is the fact that games that took place in Athens in 1906 are not even officially recognized. The games were in danger of being lost after 1900 (Paris) and 1904 (St. Louis) because they were part of large fairs and expositions in those years and relegated to a side show. In stepped the Greek government which offered to host a 10th anniversary Olympics in 1906 and restore the games to their rightful stature. The IOC agreed.

However, once the Games were over, the IOC removed its official approval. These were the Olympics that never were. But the 1906 games served their purpose — the Olympics were back on track. The lV version would be held in London in 1908.

York polymath learns the hard way

Overachievement can look easy. But that doesn’t mean it is. Beijing-born, Toronto-raised Colin Liu (BSc ’07, BFA ’08) is all calm attention in the green room at Roy Thomson Hall as he describes his recent activities, wrote the Toronto Star Aug. 7.

He has just come from a rehearsal with the National Youth Orchestra, and is about to dash off to play a pick-up hockey game with former Lions teammates from York University, from which he recently collected two undergraduate degrees. Once he plays his last piece with the orchestra Sunday night at the Toronto Symphony’s home stage, he has a plane to catch. Tuesday afternoon, he is expected to be on duty with the Canadian Olympic sports medicine team in Beijing.

Oh, did anyone mention that he can also play the piano and sing? Rarely has a 23-year-old packed so much into so little time.

But the guy with a bachelor of science degree in sports medicine, a bachelor of fine arts degree in clarinet performance (2008), a Level III provincial certificate in ice-hockey coaching and qualifications as a personal trainer has realized that – just maybe – he’s going to have to make some choices.

“I don’t think I’m that good at what I do,” says the polymath. “I just tried to be the best I could be in each area, and finally came to the realization that you can’t be the best of the best at everything.” For now, though, playing the clarinet remains a priority. He was with the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra for the two years. This summer it’s the National Youth Orchestra on a 10-city tour.

Osgoode alumnus was ‘on the cutting edge of interpreting the Charter’

Terry Murphy (BARR ’49) liked to make a little history, wrote The Globe and Mail in an obituary of the former MP and Ontario Superior Court justice Aug. 7. Murphy died on July 12 in Sault Ste. Marie. At only 22, he was the youngest lawyer in his class to be admitted to the Ontario bar and one of the youngest in the province’s history. As a rookie lawyer, just three years out of law school, he became the first solicitor from Sault Ste. Marie to argue his own case before the Ontario Court of Appeal instead of hiring a Toronto lawyer, as was the practice. He won his appeal and saved a man from the gallows.

For 27 years, Murphy was the Soo’s pre-eminent criminal lawyer, with a reputation for having such a comprehensive knowledge of the rules of evidence that he could mount a defence from a couple of words scribbled on the flap of a cigarette package. He never denied the legend that grew around him, commenting only that he did not smoke the brand of cigarettes cited in the story. He went on to use his keen legal knowledge as a judge in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice for two decades.

Over the years, Murphy was in the front line of cases involving the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which was proclaimed in 1982. "He was really on the cutting edge of interpreting the Charter," said Bruce Wilson, a Soo criminal lawyer who knew Murphy both as a lawyer and a judge.

On air

  • A study by Michael Riddell, professor in York’s School of Kinesiology and Health Science, Faculty of Health, on differences in ability to burn fat between pre-pubescent youths and adults was featured on Citytv and CP24 News Aug. 6.
  • Barrie Wilson, professor in York’s Atkinson School of Arts & Letters and author of the book How Jesus Became a Christian, participated in a phone-in show about his theories on Ottawa’s CFRA radio Aug. 6.