Troy Media – by Catherine Ford
If “tough-on-crime” legislation worked in any substantial way to lessen crime and make communities safer, as the Canadian government is propounding, the United States would be the safest, most crime-free country in the world.
Instead, according to a United Nations poll the U.S. is the exact opposite.
The country with the lowest crime rate – with a grand total during a single year of 751 criminal acts – was Montserrat, one of the Leeward Islands in the West Indies.
U.S. “winner” in crime stats
The “winner” in the overall crime-rate statistics was the U.S., with nearly twice as many crimes committed as the second-ranked county, the United Kingdom. Canada ranked eighth, right behind South Africa and ahead of Italy. Canada’s crime rate would have to be five times higher than its 2.5 million to even match the 11.9 million of the U.S.
This is largely irrelevant, except for a single fact: Canada is adopting the failed attitude of the United States. Getting “tough on crime” means nothing, but it plays well with voters who have been scared under the bed.
As the Canadian government sets forth its omnibus crime legislation, it is obvious Prime Minister Stephen Harper is more interested in window-dressing his government’s macho credentials. The omnibus bill includes the elimination of house arrest for violent offenders and mandatory minimum sentences for drug offences. It limits judicial discretion.
Maybe the worse clause of this proposed bill is the spying provision that gives surveillance powers to the police. Internet service providers will be compelled to produce whatever data is requested, including e-mails, without a search warrant, even, say news reports: “if no formal investigation is underway.”
In a mastery of double-speak, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said: “Canadians . . . know they can continue to count on us to fight crime so that our communities are safe places for people to live, raise their families, and do business.”
We already have safe communities, but nobody is listening. Canada’s actual crime rate has fallen steadily, despite what the Conservative government believes to be our soft on crime laws and so-called activist judges, an odious label used by the political right to pillory men and women who sit in judgment in our courts.
Voters don’t get the simple fact of a declining crime rate because that’s a bloodless story about statistics, relegated to a back page in the newspaper and to short shrift in the electronic media. There aren’t any graphic pictures or violent images with which to raise fear levels. Providing mental health services, supporting families, providing services and intervention before a life of crime takes hold doesn’t earn many votes and doesn’t make for interesting television.
It makes for a more equitable society, for more empathetic and compassionate communities, but it doesn’t sell newspapers as much as outrage, anger and spitefulness. As the media focuses on the victims of crime, those who cry out for justice yet fail to understand the concept, the more the savage cry for revenge is heard.
Inviting victims, those most harmed by crime, to opinionate at length on the “justice” of a sentence with victim impact statements, introduced in Canadian courts in 1988, exacerbates the idea we’re awash in crime and nobody’s doing anything about it.
This, despite arguments to the contrary raised by the Canadian Bar Association and the judges and justices themselves.
But the Canadian people, at least those who gave Harper his majority government and, thus, the power to enact whatever legislation he believes fit, regardless of the complaints or consequences, have bought into the notion that our laws must be toughened.
“They will fill the prisons with young people and Indians.”
In Crime and Punishment, Fedor Dostoyevsky’s 1866 novel, his protagonist, Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov, commits murder. He believes himself to be a superior man, to be above the normal moral code. That he is not becomes obvious and the true punishment for his murderous acts is not a mandatory minimum sentence but: “If he has a conscience he will suffer for his mistake. That will be punishment – as well as the prison.”
But don’t try that philosophical comment on the Harpies.
Don’t say we weren’t warned, when the bill for the cost of minimum sentences and the price of more prisons is presented to the Canadian taxpayer.
Until then, the final word should belong to retired Alberta Provincial Court Judge John Reilly, who exposed racism and injustice in his 2010 book Bad Medicine: A Judge’s Struggle for Justice in a First Nations’ Community. Contemplating the omnibus bill, he said: “They will fill the prisons with young people and Indians.”
He shook his head. “Punishment is futile,” he added.
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