Ladies and gentlemen, I think it’s clear from what I’ve written so far that I am one of those bleeding heart dirty hippie leftie types, and that is a badge I wear proudly, even though I both cut my hair and showered today. It’s understandable, then, that I level a lot of criticism at the current Conservative government, because how I approach governance (theoretically – it’s not like I’m in Parliament or anything) is very different, and with a very different set of priorities, than Stephen Harper’s approach. But unlike me, Stephen Harper and his party have, on some issues like crime, an awful lot in common with their American counterparts. Flying in the face of reason, they introduce legislation that calls for more prisons, more prisoners, disproportionate punishment, and mandatory sentencing, at a time when crime rates are falling, and violent crime rates are dropping dramatically. You’d think, then, that after hearing about the omnibus crime bill Harper has tabled, that Texan conservative politicians would either voice support the bill, or at least stick to vague and non-committal platitudes about it, right?
Yes, that’s right, a bunch of Texan conservative politicians have gone on public record as saying that they think that the omnibus crime bill that Harper is touting as a solution for our mean Canadian streets (obviously some streets here are mean, but most of them aren’t, and aren’t in the way that Harper is trying to convince us all that they are) is a waste of time and money, and that a few years down the line we’ll spend a bunch more time and money trying to clean up the mess this bill made.
In the way that a stopped clock is right twice a day, I totally agree with the Texans here. It’s a waste of money, it flies in the face of reason, it will create more prisoners and keep rehabilitation and mental health services away many of the people who need them, and it’s an all-round terrible idea. To top it all off, the Conservatives are trying to hustle it through Parliament with a minimum of debate and examination, which is a sure sign that there’s things in there that they don’t want dredged up or held up against cold hard evidence. They allowed debate for only two days, for a bill that comprised nine previous bills, some of which had not yet been debated in their original form. Two days for essentially nine bills! That is totally unacceptable.
Here’s a few highlights (lowlights?) of what’s in the bill. As I was writing this, I went to look for a copy of the bill on Parliament’s website, only to find that the site was completely and totally non-functional (not even a 404 page – just a one line “Database error” response). Hopefully it’s up and running and located here (link nabbed from a CBC article), but that’s a metaphor for our Parliamentary system if ever there was one.
- Mandatory minimum sentencing for a variety of crimes, including drug, sex, and violent crimes. I’m a bit more sympathetic to minimum sentencing to sex crimes, since they’re heinously under-prosecuted, but the inclusion of drug crimes will disproportionately affect people who really aren’t a threat to society at large. We all know how well the War on Drugs is going in the U.S. – Harper’s looking to repeat that wondrous success story here. /sarcasm
- Along those lines, there are harsher penalties for drug crimes and crimes committed against children.
- Harsher penalties for repeat young offenders. This is somewhere where I think they’re really off the mark – locking kids up is not going to help solve the issue of kids committing crimes. Getting to the root of why they’re in gangs and in trouble in the first place, and providing alternatives like community programs and effective mental health supports, and dealing with poverty in our communities would be much, much more effective. The bill also requires judges to consider releasing the young offender’s name to the public (currently, no young offenders’ name are made public), which opens up another can of worms.
- Elimination of house arrest and pardons for various serious crimes (not necessarily the same ones). No justice system is perfect, and people will be wrongly convicted of some crimes. Obviously we need to be everything we can to avoid that, but eliminating pardons seems like people who were wrongly accused will not be able to move past their ordeal. Also, there’s an unspoken assumption here that many criminals are unredeemable, and I don’t think that’s true. Many criminals come from generational poverty and a cycle of violence, and breaking that cycle and rehabilitating them as positive members of society is certainly possible. Saddling all of them, with no consideration of circumstances, behaviour, or individual context, with an unpardonable criminal record is huge barrier to breaking that cycle. Again they’re trotting out sexual criminals for the prime target here, but I think there’s further reaching implications to the bill that haven’t been thought out.
- More rights for victims to participate in parole hearings and decisions, along with harsher penalties for parole violations and bad behaviour in prison. While I understand how including the victims of crime in the judicial process is important, I fear that there is little to stop revenge, rather than justice, guiding the hearings.
Fortunately, there are a few contentious pieces of legislation that aren’t included, including the long gun registry and the lawful access bill. I’ll talk about them soon, but spoiler alert! I’m vehemently against both of them. But at least they’ll get hustled through on their own “merit,” and not on the coattails of this bill.
But as Dan Gardener at the Ottawa Citizen points out, there are inconsistencies in the bill. He notes that, as it stands, growing a single pot plant in a rented apartment will now count as trafficking, because the person growing the plant does not own the residence. A person growing a single pot plant in their own house, however, is not a trafficker under the bill. When this was published last week, the Justice Minister got huffy and insisted that no such thing was in the bill. The columnist got some law professors to examine the bill anonymously, and they all agreed that his interpretation of it was correct. The Justice Minister then bizarrely blamed the NDP for it, saying that the inconsistency was as a result of a change to the bill they had put forward, when there was no evidence to support that.
More troubling than out-of-right field accusations, though, is that the Justice Minister and presumably his staff (since I would think that a minister’s staff would pipe up about something like this if it hit the news) do not know what is and isn’t in the bill. They don’t seem to understand all, or at least most, of the implications of the legislation they’re actively hustling through with the bare minimum of debate, leaving little time for anyone to find out the missing information and drag it out into the light. This is extremely problematic and totally unacceptable. This is not how Parliament should work, and this is not a competent government to lead it. But we’re stuck with them for a while, unfortunately, and the fallout from this bill has shown that we cannot, under any circumstances, take our collective eyes off them.