True Costs of Vandalism

Year: 2018


Whereas acts of vandalism and theft against community property have both a psychological impact on the community as a whole, in the perception of loss of safety and of community pride, and a very real cost to taxpayers, who must bear the cost of repair or replacement, on a repeated basis; and

Whereas programs such as fine options and others impose an even greater real cost to the municipalities, in that the offender requires supervision, usually by paid municipal employees; and

Whereas the current sentences handed down do not normally address full restitution to the municipalities affected;

Therefore be it resolved that the SUMA advocate the provincial Ministry of Justice to request statement of accounts of all costs incurred to repair and/or replace items vandalized or stolen from a municipality, and to submit such statement to the court with a recommendation to the presiding judge for full restitution by the offender — or in the case of a youth, that the parents or guardian of that youth be responsible for full restitution — and that terms be such that the full cost of the willful acts be repaid to the municipality over a reasonable period of time.

Provincial Response

Public Prosecutions is always interested to know the exact cost of any vandalism alleged to have been committed by an accused. That information should be provided to the investigating police service immediately after the offence, for forwarding to the prosecutor. I ask for that immediately because it is not unusual for cases to be resolved or head to resolution on the accused’s first court appearance. I ask it to go to the police because Public Prosecutions is not an investigating agency, so it does not gather evidence.

Cases often head to resolution on the first appearance because that is when decisions about alternative measures are made. Further, an accused is entitled to plead guilty at the outset and to seek to be sentenced. Early referrals to alternative measures happen, and the Courts proceed quickly to sentencing, because of the many considerations which require cases be expedited.

On top of that, the criminal system makes efforts to help victims recover at least some of their losses, but that is not its primary purpose. The objectives of sentencing include that, but measuring culpability, the offender’s means, the need to send some offenders to jail, rehabilitation, and other things factor in too. That is why judges are not required to order restitution as part of a probation order or conditional sentence order. It is about balancing considerations in pursuit of overall justice.

The Criminal Code allows for stand alone restitution orders, but only where the matter is appropriate. They do not guarantee recovery. The criminal law is not a direct or complete substitute for civil proceedings. Again, the idea is to use the criminal system, and such things as alternative measures, for overall justice.

For similar reasons, and many others, the criminal system does not provide for the recovery of money from parents because of their children’s actions. Whether it can be achieved in the civil context is something on which your counsel can provide advice.

So, as soon as vandalism or theft occurs, the municipality which suffers the loss should calculate an itemized cost. That should go to the police at once with a request for the restitution. What happens to the request will depend on timing, the facts of the case, the applicable legal principles, and the balancing of sentencing objectives.

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