Print Media Treatment of Hate as an Aggravating Circumstance for Sentencing: A Case Study

2. Results

2. Results

he results of the analysis are divided into two sections. The first explores the print media portrayal of subparagraph 718.2(a)(i). The section begins with a quantitative account of the newspaper items relating to Miloszewski, followed by a qualitative examination of the newspaper reports. The second section explores how the print media conceptualised and constructed the Miloszewski case.

2.1 Frequency of Articles and News Item Outlets

A total of 62 newspaper items were found that related to Miloszewski. Forty-four items (71%) appeared before the five men were sentenced (pre-sentence), while 18 items (29%) were written after the Judge's sentencing decision (post-sentence). As expected, the largest proportion of items emanated from newspaper outlets in British Columbia (the province in which the crime occurred). Indeed, three newspapers in British Columbia (Victoria Times Colonist, Vancouver Sun and The Province) accounted for 23 (37%) of the items. Twenty-three percent were found in the Vancouver Sun (N=14), while six items appeared in The Province (Vancouver) and 3 in the Victoria Times Colonist. The remaining articles were found within various newspapers from across Canada (e.g., The Globe and Mail, National Post, Edmonton Journal, Toronto Star, and Lethbridge Herald).[6]

2.2 News Sources

Before discussing coverage of the subparagraph 718.2(a)(i), it is important to understand which information sources the media used in reporting about this case. Information sources play a vital role in deciding what gets reported and how the information is characterised. "Authorised knowers," (ct., Ericson et al., 1991: 5) -people awarded voice by the media -help construct news items by communicating meaning to the information consumer (the newspaper reader). Information sources are therefore knowledge “gatekeepers” who decide what aspects of an event are "newsworthy."

  • Ericson et al. (1991: 186) identify five general types of news/information sources.
  • Government or institutional officials (including individuals from the criminal justice system and other government agencies) become involved in the news process through their positions of "institutional authority."
  • Journalists make news by deciding what to report and by acting as information sources.
  • Political organisations (e.g., private
    corporations or political groups).
  • Citizens without an organisational
    affiliation.
  • Unidentified sources (e.g., an unnamed source).

The most prominent information sources for newspaper stories about crime are government officials and journalists. In their examination of print media source types, Ericson et al. (1991: 186) found that "[n]ews of crime, law and justice is primarily based on the accounts of government institutional definers, and/or the accounts of journalists themselves."Other research confirms that crime news is based primarily on information gleaned from official government or institutional sources. Fishman (1981) discovered that journalists rely heavily on law enforcement officials as information sources of crime news. "As the routine source of crime news, law enforcement agencies formulate for journalists what is 'out there' and what can be said about it"(Fishman, 1981: 372).

Employing Ericson's et al. (1991: 186) five categories of information sources, a review of the 62 newspaper items was conducted to determine the frequency of various information sources. Table 1 reports the findings of this analysis. Overall, information sources were mentioned 147 different times within the various items.[7] In some cases the same information source was cited repeatedly (e.g., the Crown prosecutor and the sentencing judge).

Government or institutional representatives were the largest information source within the newspaper items related to Miloszewski (N=63 or 43% of the information sources). Police accounts of the investigation and quotes from the Crown prosecutor and from the sentencing Judge comprised the majority of sources within this category. Journalists also proved to be a large information source (N=44 or 30% of the information sources), primarily via court observations, editorials, newswire articles, and as a source of information (e.g., investigation into the history of the accused). Less priority was awarded to citizens, such as the victim's and offenders' families (N=20 or 14% of the information sources), and private sector/political organisations, including anti-racism organisations (N=15 or 10% of the information sources). Unidentified sources accounted for five (3%) of the 147 information sources.

Table 1: Information Sources
Source Type Frequency Proportion (%)
Goverment/Institutional 63 43%
Journalists 44 30%
Citizens 20 14%
Political Organisations 15 10%
Unidentified 5 3%
Total 147 100%

Overall, government/institutional spokespersons and newspaper journalists were the most common information source for the newspaper coverage of Miloszewski. However, counting news sources cannot reveal how particular incidents are characterised by the media. Therefore, this paper now examines how the aggravating sentencing circumstance was portrayed within the newspaper coverage of Miloszewski. Specifically, the section examines what the information sources say about this legislation. The section begins with a quantitative description of the items referring to subparagraph 718.2(a)(i).

2.3 Articles Referring to Subparagraph 718.2(a)(i) of the Criminal Code

Of the 62 items included in this analysis, 38 (61%) refer to subparagraph 718.2(a)(i) of the Criminal Code either directly by citing the legislation or indirectly by discussing the cours sentencing decision. Of the 38 items that refer to the aggravating sentencing circumstance, 23 appear during the pre-sentence stage and 15 appear post-sen tence.

2.4 Pre-Sentence Coverage

Newspaper items referring to the aggravating sentencing circumstance during the pre-sentence stage (N=23) can be characterised in three ways:

  • Those with an information/educational component -describing the role and purpose of the legislation.
  • Items describing how Miloszewski was the most important case to date related to subparagraph 712.2(a)(i) of the Criminal Code.
  • One item (appearing in several newspapers) expressing disagreement with hate-motivated legislation.

Articles with an Educational Component

Several pre-sentence newspaper items referring to the aggravating sentencing circumstance contained an “educational” component. For instance, one item quoted the Crown, who argued that the five perpetrators should be "more severely punished because their attack was motivated by racism. Crown counsel Ron Caryer said he will use a section of the Criminal Code passed in late 1996 to seek longer sentences at a hearing set for September" (Canadian Press, Globe and Mail, May 28, 1999). Another item described how the judge was being asked to consider "…a clause in the Criminal Code that allows a more severe sentence for a crime motivated by racial hatred and other prejudices"(Bolan, Vancouver Sun, September 30, 1999: B1). Finally, one item provided detailed information on how the aggravating sentencing circumstance would be employed during the sentencing hearing:

Section 718.2 of the Criminal Code states that the court must take into account aggravating circumstances of an offence, including a motivation of hate. However though, the Crown must establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the offender was motivated by bias, prejudice or hatred against the victim (Theodore, Edmonton Journal, September 29, 1999: A15).

The Precedent Setting Nature of the Case

Several pre-sentence items conveyed the importance of subparagraph 718.2(a)(i) for the Miloszewski case. As one item noted,

…[the Crown] said the case is precedent-setting in that it is the first major matter before the courts in which the crown is arguing for a more severe penalty because the crime was motivated by hatred or racial bias. It has been used a few times but not on the scale of a case like this, Cayer told reporters, referring to section 718.2 of the Criminal Code (Bolan, Vancouver Sun, September 28, 1999: B1; see also, Theodore, September 29, 1999: A15 -my emphasis).

Two other items reiterated the landmark status of the case:

This is a first for a Canadian court. The Crown attorney's have asked Mr. Justice William Stewart to jail all five for life, citing a new clause in the Criminal Code that allows for a more severe sentence for a crime motivated by racial hatred (Armstrong, October 7, 1999).

The case is the first in Canadian courts where a prosecutor has asked for a more severe sentence because killers acted out of racial hatred. Life sentences are not usually given for manslaughter, but the Criminal Code was changed in 1996 to allow sentences to be increased for bias and hate crimes (Armstrong, Globe and Mail, October 16, 1999).

One information source characterised the sentencing hearing as constituting an important hurdle, which would test the aggravating sentencing circumstance. A representative from the West Coast Coalition for Human Dignity was quoted as saying that "it [Miloszewski] is the strongest case which can test the sentencing laws…The solution has to start with these five being punished to the full extent of the law" (Grewal, October 12, 1999: A19 -my emphasis).

Disagreement with Hate Crime Legislation

Only one pre-sentence item (appearing in several different newspapers) challenged the underlying principle of the aggravating sentencing circumstance. In an editorial (Edmonton Journal, October 8, 1999), "Murder Victims are all Equal,"the author disagreed with the Crown's request for heavy sentences because the offence was motivated by hate:

The vicious hatred these five men displayed the night they killed Nirmal Singh Gill should turn all our stomachs. But it makes no sense to impose stricter sentences on killers who kill for reasons of racial prejudice than on those who kill for greed or revenge or malice. Death is the greater wb-eqhtr, and every murder victim is as dead as the next. The Criminal Code already gives judges the power to impose life sentences for manslaughter. Is a sentence these men richly deserve not because they're neo-Nazis, but because they are vicious thugs (Note: this editorial also appeared in the Halifax Daily News on October 11, 1999: p.12, and in the Calgary Herald, October 12, 1999: A25).


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