Canada: Opinion: Quick-fix laws following horrific crimes are seldom effective

Source: 1/4/22

On Sept. 17, 2021, Mchale Busch, 24, and her son, Noah were tragically confirmed dead. The accused, Robert Keith Major, 53, is facing two charges of first-degree murder and two counts of indignity to human remains. In response, Cody McConnell, Busch’s partner and Noah’s father, and his family are calling for changes to Alberta’s Personal Information Protection Act to allow a landlord the ability to ask for consent to collect personal information. This would allow tenants to know if there is a registered sex offender in their building. McConnell is advocating for the database to be publicly accessible and wants these changes in his son’s name, thus “Noah’s Law.”

This tragedy begs the question of what can be done so that, as stated by McConnell, “no one else [has] to experience the trauma and the violence that we now have to live with forever.”

 Alberta Yellowhead MP Gerald Soroka has been contacted by his constituents asking how he will respond. He is calling for changes to sex-offender laws, and plans to introduce a private member’s bill to protect Canadians from convicted sex offenders.

The pattern of policy emerging from panic is not uncommon, but it is often ineffective. These tragic, rare cases incite fear and anger, and people mobilize to enact change. Prior research suggests media coverage of cases involving strangers killing children can contribute to the perception that all people who offended are bound to reoffend and are a danger to society, despite efforts to rehabilitate them. Scholars note once legislators become aware of the public’s outrage, they often adopt “knee-jerk” legislative responses to appear as though they are “doing something.”

However, policymakers should be cautious to avoid repeating past mistakes of adopting ineffective legislation. Laws that emerge from moral panics are an example of crime-control theatre law. Prior to serious consideration, Noah’s Law should be examined to ensure it is not another example of crime-control theatre.

There are four important aspects of crime-control theatre laws. The laws are developed amid moral panic, offer simplistic solutions that are unquestionably accepted, draw upon myths, and continue despite empirical evidence suggesting ineffectiveness. In relation to Noah’s Law, it emerged in response to moral panic, simplistic solutions have been offered such as the creation of a publicly accessible registry, and myths common to people who offended sexually seem to be prevalent, such as the myth that strangers are often perpetrators of violence. Related empirical research about rates of reoffending, and who perpetrates violence suggest Noah’s Law, as it currently has been proposed, could be yet another ineffective response.

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