EDITORIAL: Communities get say in court

It’s not always just individuals who are affected by a crime, sometimes the community as a whole also suffers consequences.

It’s not always just individuals who are affected by a crime, sometimes the community as a whole also suffers consequences.

These can be financial in nature, or a blow dealt to the collective psyche. Up until now, these impacts have only nebulously been considered in court cases.

British Columbia communities will soon be changing that.

The B.C. Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General recently announced that communities will now be allowed to submit impact statements, much like victims can now make statements to the court before sentencing.

The judge will be able to weigh these statements in his sentence. Statements will “describe the emotional, physical, and financial impacts of an offence on a community,” according to the province. They can include “local or regional economic impacts, the emotional toll on the community members that resulted from hearing about and responding to the offence, and details of how the offence has limited or curtailed community members’ access to a particular facility or service.”

Community impact statements can be made by a local organization, civic government, religious organizations or First Nations community. It’s a move of which we approve.

We think these can be particularly effective in cases involving things like vandalism, arson, fraud and embezzlement. One can see them even coming into play in certain cases of assault, including sexual assault or drug dealing.

While they are considered less serious (and rightly so), all too often in cases of vandalism against public buildings or businesses, the perpetrators seem to treat it like a victimless crime.

Yet even something as relatively minor as repeated tagging can have serious financial impacts on a community, from the cost of clean up to the impact it makes on things like tourism, where the image of a community is so vital to success.

The larger community is also a victim, and now they have a say.