Honestly, I couldn’t think of anything else to title this blog post. The public safety minister, Vic Toews, might actually be a moron. Today the minister announced that Kingston prison will be closing. As someone who is familiar with the justice system, the announcement to close Kingston comes as no surprise to me. Towes was quotes as telling the media:
Institutions built in the 19th century are not appropriate for managing a 21st century inmate population,The time has come to recognize its crumbling infrastructure, costly upkeep and severe limitations in effectively managing a population of maximum security male offenders, and in the case of Leclerc Institution, medium-security offenders.
This should be of no surprise to Canadians either as Kingston was constructed in 1833-1834. I could get into the back and forth about whether or not the open prison concept is good or bad for corrections. The crumbling infrastructure in Kingston, the dangerous area’s that exist, or the potential for violence etc. This is an on going debate in criminology, as well as between correctional workers. What I want to talk about is the next arguement Toews made for closing this facility:
Despite tough new law-and-order legislation many thought would result in a spike in the prison population, Toews argued the projected increase never materialized.
Toews is not referring to the Safer Streets and Communities Act (AKA- Bill C-10, Omnibus Crime Bill) he is refering to the increase that was expected with the “The Truth In Sentencing Act”. If you are unfamilar with this one, it passed last year and took away the two days for every day served in remand. Meaning that those people who could not get bail would no longer
receive time off their potential sentence for awaiting trial in a remand centre. Basically what Toews is arguing here is that everyone was wrong about the prison population increasing because it hasn’t happened yet due to legislation that was passed less then one year ago? In addition to this Tows took to Twitter to discuss it some more tweeting:
Opposition claims $19 billion price tags for new prisons. In reality we are saving $120 millions by closing needless prisons” and “we aren’t creating new prisoners- just closing revolving door of the legal system
I have several problems with these claims. First, you can’t say that new legislation is not increasing your prison population one year after you introduce it. Why you ask? The answer really is a simple one. Because the justice system doesn’t work that way. Justice is slow and there is no way we have prosecuted enough people under the Truth in Sentencing Act to truly measure the effects it will have on our prison population. Second, it is not just one policy that the problem lays with. It is the combination of new policy that is the problem. In particular is the minimum mandatory sentencing legislation. That only passed the senate on March 12 of this year. There is no way that we will see the effects of all this new legislation for at least 5 years.
To know that these policies will have dire unintended consequences all we have to do is look at the sorry state of the American justice system. California has been ordered by the US supreme court to release 30,000 prisoners, they are on the verge of bankruptsy, and they are currently trying to pass legislation that will ease up on certain drug laws (such as possession of cannabis). Meanwhile in Texas they are closing down prisons, and introducing new rehabilitative approaches to crime in order to curb their own problems that emerged as a result of the same types of legislation. Texas has also come out to warn Canada against Bills such as C-10 warning that it will only cost billions, and won’t do a thing to deter, or reduce crime.
With the introduction of all the minimum mandatory sentences in Bill C-10 that will bring Canada from 29 MMS’s to over 60. You can’t introduce such legislation and not expect a spike in your prison population, and a back log of court cases in your justice system.
So I keep sitting down to write this blog post, and every single time I just delete it, and sigh to myself as I realize that it would make no difference anyway. The bottom line is that the conservatives are going to do what the conservatives want to do, and they really don’t care what kind of consequences their actions could have, or what the Canadian people think of what they are doing.
But then I saw this article on the CBC website a few days ago (and have seen that since 3 other provinces have spoken out) and I thought maybe, just maybe there is a point to speaking out. So for those of you who have been living under a rock let me give you a run down of this new omnibus crime bill tabled by the Harper government (also know as the Safer Streets and Communities Act). There are roughly 9 key changes this bill would bring:
- The Protecting Children from Sexual Predators Act
- The Increasing Penalties for Organized Drug Crime Act
- Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders Act
- The Ending House Arrest for Property and Other Serious Crimes by Serious and Violent Offenders Act
- The Increasing Offender Accountability Act
- The Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes Act
- The International Transfer of Canadian Offenders Back to Canada Act
- The Supporting Victims of Terrorism Act
- Protecting Vulnerable Foreign Nationals against Trafficking, Abuse and Exploitation Act
To know that this bill is scary all we need to do is look to our neighbours to the south of us. States are coming close to bankruptcy, California has introduced a policy to release a tone of their non violent offenders. People are currently sitting in jail in Califorina, who has the toughest 3 strikes legislation to date, whose third strike was stealing a doughnut. Others, are sitting in prison for life with no history of violent crime. But they broke the law three times, and can no longer be trusted in society. Not surprisingly so, most of these people are non-white, or of lower socio economic status, but that’s a whole other post.
The federal government says that this bill will cost Canadian tax payers 78.6 Million dollars over the next 5 years. This is of course just their federal costs and doesn’t include the costs to the provinces or the 2 billion it will cost to build and operate new federal prisons to handle the increase in the population. It is also only an estimate and depends on how many people end up in jail due to the new laws. In other words its a shot in the dark, and criminologists argue a low estimate.
In Canada we do not have the 3 strikes law as in the USA but this type of crime bill that the conservative government is introducing is going to drastically increase our prison population, with the same results. Just by eliminating the 2 for 1 credit we will increase the population by 4000 inmate you add mandatory minimum sentencing into this mixture and you have a much larger prison population that needs to be housed and taken care of. Several provinces have come out against this bill and have demanded that the government help pay for it, or rethink the bill (Quebec, Ontario, Newfoundland, and Labrador) while others have expressed concern about money (BC and MB).
BC is particularly worried about this as they already face overcrowding in their jails and have had to let people go free due to a backlog in the courts. This could be a reality across Canada. Currently the justice system is already crunched. There aren’t any crown prosecutors being hired, and support staff has also been cut, and budget freezes is what most departments are facing. Currently our justice system handles 90% of cases either by dropping charges, or through plea negotiations. Only about 10% of cases actually go to trial. Well with people facing mandatory minimum sentences do you think that they will take a plea negotiation? Probably not. You are going to see an increase in people invoking their right to trial and yet the justice system doesn’t have the infrastructure right now to handle it. What will happen when the demand goes even higher?
When it comes right down to it these laws are bad for policing, and ultimately bad for our criminal justice system. You might now be sitting there wondering how it could possibly be bad for policing. It’s bad for a number of reasons. The main is man power. Police will be expected to enforce such new laws but budgets will not be increased to actually cope with such needs (similar to why you won’t see cops jumping out at you to catch you texting at a Red light) they won’t have the tools they need to actually do their jobs, and we’ll be spreading them even thinner then they already are.
Another thing that is rather odd in this bill is the proposed changed for youth crime. For starters they propose that youth 14 years or older should have stiffer penalties for their crimes. But the laws that already exist around this issue are enough as they already allow for crown prosecutors to apply to move these violent youth to adult court, and then if the judge finds it appropriate they move them to adult court and can face up to life in prison for their crimes. The other thing that the Harper government wants to do is allow for the publication of youth names for violent offenses. But, the current laws already allow for this. Any youth who is convicted of an adult sentence can have their name published, an youth 14-17 who is convicted of murder, attempted murder, manslaughter, aggravated sexual assault, is a repeat violent offender, or if the youth is at large and a judge feels they are a danger to themselves or others. So if these laws are already in place what is the big deal? The big deal is that it makes the government look incompetent. These laws already exist why are they making new ones? We have sufficient laws already in place to deal with these crimes the government is so worried about.
We are seeing all these problems in the USA right now. Backlogs, people being released, court systems being tied up, states on the verge of bankruptsy. California has started to release prisoners because they can not house them all, and people who are being sentenced to prison are having their sentences cut. For example, Lindsey Lohen was sentenced to serve 60 days but only served 5 hours and was released due to space. This doesn’t deter her, nor does it allow for rehabilitation programs to work for her. The message that was sent to Lindsey last weekend was, we know you didn’t do your community service and that was wrong, but we can’t actually put you in jail either because we have no room. So therefore in your case there are just no consequences do whatever you want. There is also already talk today about Dr. Murray (who was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the Michael Jackson murder trial). He may not serve as much time as he will be sentenced to. Why? Again, because there is no room in California jails. All these issues California has because of three strikes laws, and mandatory minimum sentences is just foreshadowing the types of problems Canada could face.
I am not saying the entire bill is bad. There are some good points. For example the increased sentences for child molesters. But it seems like the government is using that part of the bill to cover up their political agenda (the war on drugs). It just doesn’t make sense to me. If this bill is supposed to be about making the streets safer, and helping victims get justice why is it that someone who is caught with pot plants face a harsher penalty then the child rapist. I just don’t understand.
The fact is that crime is at it’s lowest level since 1966. Crime in
Canada is not on the rise. This bill is not going to make our streets safer, it isn’t that great for victims, and it’s going to cost us all a lot of money. Or as the Huffington Post put it “The last time Canada’s crime rates were as low as Statistics Canada says they are now, The Sting and American Graffiti played at the movies; Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon ruled the airwaves, and M*A*S*H was tops on TV”
Insite, which is located in Vancouver, is the only legal safe injection site in North America. Insite doesn’t provide any drugs but since 2003 it has been operating on a special exemption under the Controlled drugs and substances act to give addicts a safe place to inject their drugs. Insite has been the center of a number of studies, and controversy, since 2003 and has been proven to have benefits to society. The supreme court of Canada made their decision based on the benefits to the community and drug users in Vancouver. A reduction in public injecting, neighbourhood litter (of needles), provides a safe disposal for needles, and syringe sharing (which decreases the spread of disease), and an increase in the use of addiction treatment. There has been several studies also carried out looking at the cost benefit part of Insite. Some of the results included: $6 million in savings on HIV, and hepatitis drugs, and overdose rates dropped in Vancouver. Medical staff are present to provide addiction treatment, mental health assistance, and assistance in the event of an overdose.
Last week the supreme court of Canada made a ruling which could prove to be problematic for the conservatices ‘tough on crime’ agenda. In a
9-0 decision the supreme court of Canada ruled that closing Insite would be against the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, specifically the right to “security of the person”. Canada’s only safe injection site would remain open. Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin explained: “The effect of denying the services of Insite to the population it serves and the correlative increase in the risk of death and disease to injection drug users is grossly disproportionate to any benefit that Canada might derive from presenting a uniform stance on the possession of narcotics.”
This decision makes me wonder if the crack pipe program in Alberta could have held out. The crack pipe program began running in Calgary in November of 2008. The Alberta Health Region was handing out ‘crack pipe kits’. Each kit contained a glass pipe, mouthpiece, cleaning rod, and screens. The argument was similar to Insite’s argument. It was a way to prevent the spread of disease and bring addicts into contact with health care providers that could assist them. In these ways it was very similar to Insite, but the Alberta health region cracked when they began to feel pressure from the police associations who argued that such programs do nothing except encourage drug use. Given the exemption that Insite received, it could be argued that the Alberta crack pipe program falls under the same category and should also be allowed to operate without fear of prosecution on the parts of the health region officials.
What is important to remember about Insite, or even the crack pipe program in Calgary, is that neither of these places was a place where drug addicts could just go do their thing and leave. Like the crack pipe program had, Insite always has health professionals there to speak with addicts about: counseling options, risks to them, as well as address mental health issues with them and the dangers of drug addiction.
The war on drugs has been nothing short of a failure in the United States, and arguably, in some cases, a waste of money. The United States spends $15 billion annually to try and control drugs. Recently an International panel, the Global Commission on Drug Policy, declared the war on drugs a catastrophic failure. The report had what some would say are some common sense recommendations.
First, don’t treat drug addicts as criminals. The report argues that it is not feasible or safe to treat all the drug addicts in the world as criminals. First because it just simply costs too much money, and secondly because with injection users their is just too high of a risk of the spread of disease. Other countries who have similar programs to our Insite have also reported lower rates of the spread of disease such as HIV, and hepititis saving lives and tax payer dollars (as the tax payer has to front the bill, or at least part of it, for medications to treat these diseases).
Second, don’t waste your time with small time drug dealers. I won’t go into this one. I personally think it speaks for itself.
Third, Decriminalize or legalize certain drugs to undercut organized crime. I can’t say this enough. Legalize weed already. A study done in the US points out that legalizing weed would inject $6 billion into the US economy every year. Studies out of other countries who have decriminalized some drugs have shown that with the legalization of possession, and the means to obtain some drugs in a safe legal manner criminal suppliers became less visible. I am not saying that all organized crime would go away, but at the same time organized crime will never go away. Another interesting side effect of the decriminalization of some drugs could be decreased use. why? Because addicts could seek help without fear of prosecution. This study, done by the Beckley Foundation, on the decriminalization of drugs in Portugal looked at over all drug use and found: the use of weed increased, the use of drug treatment increased (due largely to early intervention), there was a decrease in heroin use, and there was a large reduction in drug related deaths. Of course, if I still haven’t convinced you. I’ll just say: remember prohibition?
Canada needs to take a hard look at statistics, and studies given the new policies that the conservative government wishes to pass before the end of the year. The idea is to get tough on drugs. Canadians should be looking to their neighbours to the south and asking some tough questions. It is no secret that the drug policies is costing Americans billions every year, and that the prisons are so overcrowded that some states, such as California, have had to release non violent criminals to ease the pressure on the system. I am not saying lets legalize heroin I am just saying lets not be stupid about this. Portugal has had success because they implemented education programs, treatment centers, and addicts didn’t have to worry about prosecution. Getting addicts clean from drugs should be a priority. No one wants to do drugs. People don’t wake up one morning and say to themselves “hmmm I think I am going to get addicted to Meth today”. This program has proved effective, and it allows users to come into contact with health professionals. It could be the first step. Until we have better programs implemented this is one way to ensure that needles and other drug related paraphernalia is disposed of appropriately. But more importantly it has been proven to save lifes.
This afternoon the DA’s office in NY filed a motion to have the charges against Dominique Strauss-Kahn dismissed, the motion is expected to be approved on Tuesday when he appears in court. The dismissal is said to be based on the many inconsistencies in his accuser’s story. According to prosecutors Diallo had lied in a political asylum application that she had been persecuted in her native Guinea and was “untruthful” with prosecutors about her history, background and personal relationships. She maintains that Dominique did sexually assault her and he forced her to have oral sex with him. The medical documents showed that the wounds that she suffered were in fact caused by rape.
Soon after meeting with Ms. Diallo, who accused Dominique Strauss-Kahn of trying to rape her, and the DA, her attorney-Kenneth Thompson- announced that the charges were to be dropped. “The Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance has denied the right of a woman to get justice in a rape case, If the Manhattan district attorney, who is elected to protect our mothers, our daughters, our sisters, our wives, and our loves ones, is not going to stand up for them when they are raped or sexually assaulted, who will?”
“There were many reasons to believe that Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s accuser was not credible,” his attorneys said in a statement.”Mr. Strauss-Kahn and his family are grateful that the District Attorney’s office took our concerns seriously and concluded on its own that this case cannot proceed further,” the statement said.
Strauss-Kahn has proclaimed his innocence since this case came to light. However, the case isn’t over yet. Ms. Daillo filed a civil suit and has requested a special prosecutor for the case. The suit that was filed states that a naked Strauss-Kahn came out of his bathroom and forced Diallo to perform oral sex on him while she was cleaning his hotel room. This is also not his only legal problem. Back in France yet another accusation has emerged by a journalist who claims that in 2003 Strauss-Kahn attacked her in her apartment and forced her to have sex with him. Unfortunately the statutes of limitations on ‘sexual aggression’ in France has expired and authorities say that it will be very hard to prove rape so many years later.
Update, Aug 23, 2011: the judge has rejected the request for a special prosecutor.
Update #2 Aug 23, 2011: New York State Supreme Court Justice Michael Obus threw out the criminal sexual assault charges against Strauss-Kahn. DSK’s Lawyer had this to say: “gratitude to the district attorney’s office for taking what I think to be a commendable and courageous step”
That’s right folks, you read the title correctly. A defense lawyer is claiming that a jury was swayed unfairly by a courtroom service dog who was helping a stressed, traumatized rape victim testify against her father.
Victor Tohom was accused of raping and impregnating his 15 year old daughter. The trial ended in New York back in June and Mr. Tohom was found guilty. The dog Rosie has been credited with helping the 15 year old get through her testimony but defense lawyers argue that the dog may unfairly have swayed jurors with her cuteness and the natural empathy. The defense argues that the appearance Rosie may convinced jurors that the dog is helping the victim just get through her truth, rather then helping her gather the courage to lie on the stand. “Every time she stroked the dog,” Mr. Martin said in an interview, “it sent an unconscious message to the jury that she was under stress because she was telling the truth. There was no way for me to cross-examine the dog”.
courthouse dogs are starting to be a commonality in court rooms across America being utilized for their natural abilities to calm people who have experienced trauma or a great deal of stress, and have been particularly successful with children. Rosie was the first courthouse dog to be used in the state of New York and the outcome of this appeal has the potential to set a precedence not only in New York but across the US.
Warren Jeffs, the leader of aPolygamist group and current president o the fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has been sentenced to life in prison after less than 30 minutes of discussion this morning after being convicted on Thursday.
During the trial DNA evidence was introduced to show that Jeffs fathered a child with a 15 year old girl. They also played a recording for the jury in which Jeff’s could be heard sexually assaulting a 12 year old. The jury also reportedly heard audio tapes in which Jeff’s instructed his wives on how to please him sexually. And one of Jeffs nephews also testified against him stating that when he was just 5 years old Jeffs sexually assaulted him and told him to “keep their secret between them and God”. According to the DailyMail jurors also heard testimony that implicated Jeff’s other wives in the rape of a 12 year old girl who was tied up and held down while Jeff’s raped her.
There is a Canadian connection here, that BC has yet to take action on. 5 of the brides are from Bountiful, BC where they were handed over to the polygamist leader by parents, and other family members. The children’s names, and information were included months ago when the Supreme Court of BC was looking into constitutional issues surrounding the case and looking at whether the law in Canada on polygamy is against religious freedom. At the very least Canada could and should charge the parents involved with sex trafficking.
Authorities in Texas brought the case to the attention of Canadian authorities 3 years ago and to date their has still been no charges laid on the family members that handed their children over to Jeff’s to be wed. Do the authorities in BC have no sense of morals? It is outrageous that they are squabbling over religious freedoms while children are being sexually assaulted. If these people weren’t hiding behind God, we would have prosecuted their butt’s months ago. Sickening.
At the time of the trial Jeff’s had 78 wives, of which 24 were reportedly underage when married to Jeff’s. Jeffs was tried and convicted in Texas.