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Democracy, Class, and Canadian Sentencing Law

NCJ Number
Crime and Social Justice Issue: 21-22 Dated: (1984) Pages: 163-182
M Mandel
Date Published
20 pages
Canada's sentencing system is concerned with the preservation of the status quo regarding the social class system and not with the protection of individuals from the harmful effects of crime at the least social cost.
Thus, Canadian law is superstructural in the Marxian sense, in that it supports the social relations of economic production. Prisons and other intrusive forms of punishment are used disproportionately against social groups subordinated in production relations. In Canada, the courts regard it as appropriate to determine the sentence severity not only on the basis of the offense but also on the basis of the social characteristics of the offender. Sentencers determine sentences in the context of three main purposes: denunciation of the conduct, reform and incapacitation, and general deterrence. At the heart of denunciation is an assessment of the degree to which the offender deserves condemnation for a transgression of social values. This assessment rests on views of the offender's character, employment, and contributions to the community. In considering the potential for reform, courts look at the person's social or productive history and future. Judges seem more sympathetic to the humiliation and other problems experienced by members of their own social class than to the plight of offenders from the working and marginal classes. Finally, general deterrence is only an incidental aspect of the Canadian system, as demonstrated by the wide variations and unpredictability of penalties. The whole system aims to strengthen the social status quo rather than the legal status quo. Notes, a list of cases, and a list of 37 references are supplied.


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