National Post

Saturday, January 16, 1999

Breaking and entering warrants 2 years in jail: MP
To act as deterrent

Adam Killick
National Post

A Reform party MP has drawn up legislation that would see repeat breaking-and-entering perpetrators spend at least two years in prison.

Deepak Obhrai, a Calgary member, is introducing the legislation in response to a position paper presented by Vic Toews, the Manitoba Attorney-General, and John Havelock, the Alberta Justice Minister, at a meeting last October.

Although considered a property crime, residential break-ins should be characterized as a personal affront, Mr. Toews, a former criminal prosecutor, said in an interview. "I consider them, from a philosophical point of view, as an assault on a person's integrity."

Victims of break-ins "rarely talk about the television they lost or the other property that was taken," he said. "They talk about the fear, and the fact that someone has invaded their personal space. It's not a property offence in the same way we view an auto theft."

The rate of residential break-ins in Manitoba is 20% higher than the national average.

The two-year-minimum would prevent the vagaries of provincial justice systems from imposing different sentences from one jurisdiction to another.

There is currently no minimum punishment for the offences.

"An offender in Alberta should be looking at the same kind of time a person in Manitoba is looking at," said Mr. Toews.

He and Mr. Obhrai doubt a mandatory jail term will add to already overcrowded prisons. Five per cent of the "criminal element" is responsible for 80% of the break-ins, said Mr. Obhrai.

More important, said Mr. Toews, is that the sentence should act as a deterrent to potential thieves. "We believe it would deter anyone who is simply casually interested in this kind of a crime," he said.

"That is a very serious step, to be going into somebody's house. And if you do that on a subsequent occasion, then we think that it's warranted to be very firm."

Although not considered in Mr. Obhrai's bill, Mr. Toews would like to see a separate section in the Criminal Code to deal with so-called home invasions, where a break-and-enter occurs when residents are home and are subsequently threatened with violence.

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