Archive for the 'Criminal Justice' Category

Flawed Arithmetic

Sunday, March 16th, 2014

As the plane descends towards Fort McMurray’s airport, I am struck by the forest cover that seems to extend in all directions. It’s part of the global taiga, the boreal forests of the north, a midpoint between the arctic tundra and the temperate forests of southern and coastal Canada. There are pine, spruce, and larch, and a sense that this sunny day in late August is about to yield to a colder and more challenging season.

Since 1995 Fort McMurray has been a part of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, the second largest municipality in Canada, covering almost 65,000 square kilometres, and home to not only Fort McMurray but nine other rural communities. The population of Fort McMurray has exploded since the late 1960s, when there were only about 2,500 residents.  Today there are more than 100,000 people living in the region. Fort Mac, as it often is referred to, is the urban anchor for the Athabasca oil sands, the largest known reserve of heavy crude oil in the world, and a controversial but booming energy initiative, often criticized for its environmental impacts.

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A Crowbar in the Buddhist Garden

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013

Stephen Reid appeared to be a poster boy for redemption, the acclaimed author of Jackrabbit Parole, married to the accomplished writer Susan Musgrave in Kent Institution in 1986, and then paroled the following year. For the next 12 years he seemed, at least to most of us, to be a devoted father and family man, committed to practicing the ideals of restorative justice, inventing a new life for himself on Vancouver Island.

As he notes in his new book, this all came crashing to the ground in 1999, when he resumed his affections for the injectable use of illicit drugs, quickly became addicted, ran up a huge tab for this excess, and then resumed his occupation of robbing a bank to pay for his indulgence.

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Luka Magnotta: Reflections on the Role of the Internet, the Media and Understanding Crime

Thursday, June 7th, 2012

In July of 1910, when Dr. Hawley Crippen arrived by ocean liner in Quebec City, he was arrested for the murder of his wife; the emerging technology of the wireless telegraph was responsible for his demise. The good doctor was the first person to be caught in such a manner: he had fled the United Kingdom with his lover, but the wireless telegraph –- the precursor to the telephone — allowed the British to effect his capture.

Much has changed since 1910. We now have technologies of communication that would have seemed unthinkable even 20 years ago. The arrest of Luka Magnotta is a telling illustration of the power of the internet, a framework of communication that was, in practical terms, only in its infancy in the 1990s.

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The Future of Cannabis: How Are We to Move Forward?

Monday, February 27th, 2012

Cannabis has been taking centre stage in recent weeks. Former attorneys-general  and Vancouver mayors in British Columbia have called for regulation and taxation of the industry, in an attempt to stop the violence of the illegal trade.  At the same time the Harper government continues to move to passage of legislation that will mandate a six month minimum term of imprisonment for anyone growing six plants or more.

Undeterred, activists and pundits are now squabbling over the future of cannabis. How is it to be regulated? Placed in the pharmacy and made available on prescription? Regulated like fine red wine, with a focus on the quality of the product, the metaphorical grapes, the vineyards, and the country of origin?

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The Triumph of Secular Science (Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined)

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

The response to Steven Pinker’s new book has been remarkable. While there are a few mixed reviews (James Q. Wilson in the Wall Street Journal comes to mind),  virtually everyone else either raves about the book or expresses something close to ad hominem contempt and loathing.

At the heart of the disagreement are competing conceptions of research and scholarship. How are we to study violence and to assess whether it has been increasing or decreasing? What analytic tools do we bring to the table?

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Debating the Crime Bill? Fix the Prisons First

Thursday, December 1st, 2011

It’s a common occurrence for staff to receive threats from inmates.  This year I’ve received seven threats, all documented appropriately…. My facility is like 10 pounds of potatoes in a five-pound bag.  Inmates are sleeping on filthy mattresses on filthy floors because of the lack of space, and the health care is atrocious. Men with problems such as an abscessed tooth can wait 3 or 4 weeks for dental treatment, and men with open wounds are living in filthy conditions, which lead to constant infections.  And even when people do see a doctor or dentist, there is little follow-up. The inmates are treated like animals, in conditions that I would not be able to tolerate myself.

British Columbia Correctional Officer, November, 2011

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The B.C. Liberals Embrace the Crime Bill: The Principle is Political Expediency

Wednesday, November 9th, 2011

“I support keeping our streets safe”, Premier Christy Clark told the legislature last week, in support of the Harper Conservatives’ crime bill. “Where do they stand on a bill that intends to make Canadian streets safer?” she asked of the NDP opposition. Her comments, as one reporter noted, spoke “to a certain constituency her B.C. Liberal party is obsessively courting”. Ms. Clark was “trying to coax back to her tent the 18 per cent of voters who, the pollsters say, support the fledgling B.C. Conservative party”. One can imagine the Randy Newman song, “Rednecks”, playing softly in the background.

The Premier is an intelligent woman; she must know that the very expensive elements of the crime bill have nothing to do with making our streets safer. The Youth Criminal Justice Act already mandates significant sentences and almost routine transfer to adult court for youth offenders who commit serious crimes of violence. The wholesale elimination of conditional sentences for a range of property offences removes judicial discretion from cases where house arrest would be an appropriate judicial response. Perhaps most important, the crime rate has been declining and there is no credible evidence that putting all sorts of people in jail for longer periods of time will make our society more safe.

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The Conservatives’ Crime Bill: Mean, but far from Lean

Friday, September 30th, 2011

With a majority government the Harper Conservatives have indicated that they now have electoral support for their agenda of dramatically increasing Canada’s prison population. Justice Minister Rob Nicholson told the media last week that his government has “ a strong mandate to move forward”.

Close attention to relevant data – or even basic arithmetic – does not appear to be a hallmark of the current government. Slightly less than 40 per cent of Canadian voters cast their ballots for the Conservatives earlier this year, and only 61 per cent of eligible voters actually made it to the polls. The reality, then, is that the Conservatives – and many of their policies — would appear to have the support of less than 25 per cent of adult Canadians.

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In Memory of Liz Elliott, 1957-2011

Monday, September 12th, 2011

One of my first enduring visual memories of Liz Elliott is from a day in the late 1980s. Liz had just moved from Ontario to study in our Ph.D. program, and she was interested in murder – or more specifically, state responses to murder and murderers. The School of Criminology was in its first of three locations, on the 7th floor of the SFU Library; Liz was almost nine months pregnant and Milt had arrived in the School to pick her up. “Come on, rotunda”, he said to her affectionately, as they walked out of the department that day.

I did not know then how much I would learn from Liz Elliott and how much she would influence my view of murder and murderers, of prisons and prisoners, and of the importance of understanding and supporting those human beings who are typically the most vilified within our culture. In a recent email Liz thanked me for being a mentor to her (along with expressing frustration and outrage at yet another particularly lame initiative from the Harper Conservatives).

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Young Men in Groups: Reflections on the Vancouver Riot

Monday, June 20th, 2011

Some years ago one of our local police officers made the telling observation that if it wasn’t for alcohol, he’d probably only have a part-time job. One could add to his insight the observation that if it wasn’t for young men between the ages of 15 and 25, we would probably have much less need for law enforcement in our communities.

A lot has been written about the riot in Vancouver in the aftermath of the Canucks loss, and almost all of this writing has something to offer. It has been noted that a small group of young men were at the epicentre of the riot, and that many other young people stood by and watched as glass was smashed, stores were looted, and cars were set on fire. Many have observed that even those committing criminal offences, wearing Canucks jerseys, were likely hockey fans – just not the kinds of hockey fans that we want to claim as our own.

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