There has been much written and discussed in the media recently about a Fraser Institute report, The Cost of Crime in Canada, authored by three academics from Simon Fraser University. The report starts out revealing that, while the crime rate in Canada decreased 27 per cent between 2002 and 2012, the cost of dealing with crime through the justice system rose by 35 per cent. Put another way, the cost per crime reported to the police saw an increase from $6,245 in 2002 to $10,122 in 2012. On a per crime basis, that’s a 62 per cent increase.

The report notes that the Supreme Court of Canada “has imposed a set of evolving requirements on the police and prosecution that makes it manifestly more expensive to capture and prosecute.” Rightly, it also points out that these requirements were put in place to safeguard the public. In particular, the cases of Rowbotham (the right to a state-funded lawyer), Askov (the right to a speedy trial) and Stinchcombe (the right to full disclosure of Crown evidence) are cited as decisions that have increased the costs of prosecution.

The burdens imposed by Stinchcombe alone are considerable. Police, Crown prosecutors, defence lawyers and the courts now must prepare, transmit, read and interpret significantly more information. And while the report refers to a study showing that police paperwork increased from an hour and a half per shift 30 years ago to over four hours per shift now, it also draws attention to other factors, such as costs due to technological advances like DNA, that are capital intensive. 

While Parliament may not have changed the law in respect to many sections of the Criminal Code, all sections of the Code are subject to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Each of the Rowbotham, Askov and Stinchcombe decisions were Charter cases. The Charter was not, however, created by the courts. It was created for all Canadians in the early 1980s, and passed into law through Parliament. The court is required to interpret all legislation – both substantive law and procedural law – in light of the Charter

It is important to understand the costs associated with enforcing the law, because these costs have significant implications for government when considering the proper funding of the justice system. It is unfair, however, to imply that the courts alone are to be blamed for increases in the cost of prosecution or that the increased costs are not justified in safeguarding the public. 

The Charter creates rights and freedoms for all Canadian citizens. The right to a fair trial, the right to be tried within a reasonable time and the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty are all enshrined in our Constitution. Unquestionably, there are costs in pursuing these noble goals. They are the costs of living in a free and democratic society.