Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Thoughts on Omnibus Crime Bill C-10

I am writing as a concerned citizen who had grown use to living in a much warmer country than it feels now.  Our government is behaving like a bunch of children who get to say "I told you so".  They insist on behaving with omnipotent authority with no concern for what our society actually wants them to do.  When they won the mandate to govern, I do not believe that gave them the mandate to issue into law within 100 days everything their little hearts desire.  Previous to now, I do not believe that it has ever been assumed that you get to ram everything you want down the throat of Parliament just because "you can".

The latest is their lumping of nine bills into one omnibus crime bill that is going to cost us a lot of money in the long run and will likely have our prisons run by private enterprise.  The massive penal colonies that have sprung up here and there in the United States have been proven less than effective.  The owners, having run out of options in the south are lobbying in the Northern State to build an empire here.  There can be no mistake about the fact that costs will soar and the governments will have no interest in funding the required prisons.  Ultimately and amazingly enough, private enterprise will be there to do it more cheaply than the government could ever hope to do it so we will sell all of the prisons to corporations to run for a profit.  Now that is all pure speculation but it does somehow sound familiar, does it not?  The Canadian Bar Association has said that the bill "would move Canada along a road that has failed in other countries, at great expense".  The Bar is more concerned with justice and rehabilitation it seems than with penalizing; somewhat like I think most Canadians that I know feel.

Prime Minister Harper claims that Canadians support tough on crime laws.  Well, he is referring to the 40% who voted for him I would suppose because I have not seen any independent polls to indicate that.  Mr. McGuinty has told Mr. Harper that Ontario has no intent to budget more money for prisoners that the Federal government wants to create.  Quebec has also refused to pay for a strategy that has been tried, and failed.

Indications of the hopelessness of the Omnibus Crime Bill have been proven failures in many of the United States.  Conservative Texans are warning us not to follow a failed fill-the-prisons approach to justice.  If the Texans, who house the highest proportion of its citizens in prisons are advising against it, we really should be paying attention.

Part of the bill has to do with mandatory sentencing provisions.  It has been proven over the world that mandatory sentences backfire.  The end result is that they take precious resources from crime prevention programs and rehabilitation, and turn minor offenders into hardened criminals.  Prosecuting and sentencing the increased number of mandatory issues that should not result in prison time will clog the justice system and fill prisons.  This will force the provinces, who pay for most of our justice system, to raise taxes, increase debt, or cut spending on essential programs like health and education.  That sounds like a pretty classic lose-lose situation.

It is well known that there is over-representation of definable segments of our population that occupy prisons.  The crime bill will make the inequality that those segments represent even worse.  It's not tough on crime, it’s tough on Canadians suffering from mental illness, addictions, and poverty.  It targets youth for harsher punishments when it is a given in every other civilized area of the world that you rehabilitate and encourage youth if you want positive results.  It will also put more Aboriginal people in prison.  Whatever the reason is that these people are in prison, there are tasks to tackle to bring that representation of their population in prisons down.  Sending them to prison will just be the start of a vicious cycle of recidivism.

We need to make Canada safer, not meaner.  Our crime rate has been dropping and it doesn't seem the time to fix what ain't broke by taking our justice and penal system back decades.  If we are to continue to reduce crime, we should focus on what's already working - prevention and rehabilitation.  There are sufficient numbers of studies that indicate prevalence toward criminal activity.  I am certain that if Mr. Harper chose to, he could commission one for himself.  If we address the major causes of crime, it would make sense that the crime rate would drop even further.  Reducing inequality and supporting people who need help would go a long way toward bringing the existing prison population down.  Mr. Harper's bill would ultimately cut the resources that are attempting to move toward that goal.  It does not take a rocket scientist to guess that we may see increased crime because of that.

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