Kill Bill: Harper’s nonsensical tough-on-crime C-10 Bill

(A Panopticon from Pennsylvania, I think)

Recently, Statistics Canada revealed that Canada has reached a near-50-year low in murders. This past year continued a downward trend of gun- and gang-related homicides. Furthermore, national crime in general continued its 20-year decline, reaching levels not seen since the early 70s.

Yet, despite all this, the Harper government aggressively pursues means to radically shake up the current justice system with the omnibus crime bill, Bill C-10.

The C-10 consolidates nine former crime bills that the Conservatives failed to pass while they were a minority. Each act contains specific amendments, and the details can be accessed by the public. The general aim of the C-10 is to increase, or introduce, mandatory minimum sentences for a variety of crimes. It also aims to rewrite laws on parole, house arrest, and pardons.

In a few words, more people in jail for longer periods of time.

Opposition critics, academics, and experts have near unanimously trashed the Bill as draconian and costly. Federal Minister of Public Safety Vic Toews claims the Bill will cost taxpayers an additional $78.6-million; however, this estimate has been deemed unrealistic by opposition. Toews himself admits that this is only a rough estimate because costs will fluctuate depending on how many people actually end up in prison.

Given that the new drug sentences alone will result in a huge increase in prisoners, it’s safe to assume this is a very conservative estimate indeed.

The majority of these costs will be borne by the provinces, who are on the hook for additional courts, clerks, prisons, Crown Attorneys, judges, sheriffs, court reporters, and so on. As a result, Quebec and Ontario MPs have claimed they will refuse to pay for these new costs.

(I don’t own this image)

Conservatives south of the border are critical of Harper’s approach, too. Tea Party darling Newt Gingrich is fronting a group called Right On Crime, which advocates for less incarceration. Even the state of Texas, the quintessential Tough-On-Crime haven, has changed its tune regarding its sentencing philosophy, as Terry Milewski reported for CBC.

Texas used to subscribe to Harper’s current philosophy, but soon discovered it was both ineffective and even self-defeating. Not only did more prisons and “tougher” laws do little to curb crime—it had the opposite effect. “It’s a very expensive thing to build new prisons and, if you build ’em, I guarantee you they will come,” explained Texas Representative Jerry Madden.

Faced with a massive deficit, Madden was compelled to implement more cost-effective measures for dealing with criminals. He discovered that it cost the state 10 times more money to send offenders to prison as opposed to putting them on parole, probation, or treatment.

Instead of spending $2-billion on additional prisons to accommodate new criminals, Texas spent a meager $300-million expanding drug treatment programs, mental health centres, probation services, and community supervision for prisoners out on parole—and it worked. The crime rate in Texas has since fallen and so has the number of reoffenders.

And this is a state where crime was on the rise, compared to Canada, where crime is on the decline. According to Milewski and those he spoke with in Texas, Canada is heading down the wrong road and is bound to reverse current downward trends in crime.

So why, despite all the evidence to the contrary, and the numerous criticisms and outrage, does the Harper government insist on stubbornly pursuing this egregious “tough-on-crime” nonsense? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it—right?

Tellingly, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson claimed, “We’re not governing on the basis of the latest statistics; we’re governing on the basis of what’s right to better protect victims and law-abiding Canadians.”

But what does Nicholson mean by “what’s right?” Surely he can’t mean what’s right pragmatically because, as we can see by the Texas case study, this philosophy doesn’t work. He can’t mean what’s right fiscally because the additional costs are sure to be excessive, especially by the standards of a government obsessed with slashing and burning any program that stands in the way of a hallowed balanced budget.

It seems more appropriate to say “what’s righteous.” Forgoing rehabilitation, probation, and parole in favor of mandatory minimum sentencing isn’t about reducing crime; it’s about punishing criminals.

The Harper government is trying to control the political discourse on crime by didactically beating offenders into submission in order to show their “toughness” and moral superiority. It is a costly political game both financially and sociologically, as Harper is threatening to self-destruct all the progress Canada has made in the last 50 years.

Because Harper now has a majority, C-10 will likely pass. Fortunately, as we have seen with Danny Williams and Saskatchewan’s Brad Wall, Harper hasn’t done well in reigning in dissident premiers. It will therefore most likely be left to the provinces to kill this bill.

cheers,

-B

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~ by braddunne on November 14, 2011.

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