Honourable Marvin G. Morten Retired Ontario Court Judge (Provincial Division)
"It is poverty that drives most people into criminal clutches, so a punitive society and the war on drugs do not work."
Judge Morten started his career in criminal justice as a Toronto Assistant Crown Attorney in 1974. He worked in the Attorney General's office until 1993, when he was appointed Provincial Court Judge in the Ontario Court of Justice. He retired in 2009. Judge Morten is convinced there is an undeniable relationship between poverty and crime, which in the world of drug prohibition leads to more incarceration. "You're dealing with human beings," he says. "But they're moved through the system like meat."
His vision to eliminate racial stereotypes and ensure justice has motivated Judge Morten throughout his life. "Growing up as a black-Canadian male, I faced the stereotype that folks who looked like me were neither law abiding nor educated and that we had nothing to contribute to society. It has been my life's work to counter those stereotypes and to be in a position where I could apply the law in a fair manner and in the public interest."
Judge Morten saw in his courts how drug prohibition affects the poor and women in particular. Drug couriers were, by and large, single mothers. "Defending them was tough. The sentencing was tough," he says.
Judge Morten is especially concerned about potential laws making sentences longer and longer. "[One such bill] will impose minimum sentences. Of course that means you'll have to build more jails, hire more guards, have more of everything -- except opportunities for rehabilitation, which should be our primary goal. Severe sentencing isn't a deterrent; if there is a bad economy, there will be more crime."
In Brampton, the automotive industry has been hit hard, but a new jail has been built, and it is being touted as bringing economic advantages. "We hear a lot about this jail," he says, "We used to be an automotive economy. It's become apparent we may become a jail economy, but incarcerating more people is not going to solve our problems."
Judge Morten says his lifelong feelings about poverty and crime were reaffirmed in Johannesburg, South Africa when he visited the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund. "The South Africans are both extremely rich and extremely poor," he says, "and poverty has destroyed downtown Johannesburg. If this isn't addressed, there won't be enough jails to hold their citizens. You cannot arrest a country out of poverty."