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”