Archive for the 'Criminal Justice' Category

Mandatory Minimum Terms for Cannabis Cultivation: How Crazy Will the Harper Conservatives Be With Their “Majority”?

Monday, June 13th, 2011

One of the most foolish and costly planks of the Conservatives’ so-called get tough on crime agenda is their plan to impose mandatory minimum terms of six months imprisonment on those who grow at least six marijuana plants.

It is instructive to consider the likely impacts of such a proposal. A 2005 study  of seven years of  marijuana cultivation arrests in British Columbia revealed that more than 80 per cent of growers did not have guns or traps at their sites, were not involved in organized crime, and were not involved in  any theft of electricity. In other words, most marijuana cultivation takes place without imposing significant threats upon the surrounding community. Further, and this apparently needs to be said repeatedly – the consumption of cannabis is much less likely to lead to significant harm and premature death than the consumption of the perfectly legal and socially acceptable drugs — alcohol and tobacco — even when rates of use are taken into account.

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Crime and Criminal Justice: Why they matter in this election

Monday, April 11th, 2011

A recent Nanos research poll tells us that Canadians view health care and the economy as the two most important issues in the current election campaign; education, the environment and government debt finish a distant third, fourth and fifth. Crime is not even mentioned in the poll results.

And yet crime seems to be very important to the Harper government. If given a majority, Stephen Harper has promised to bundle together a series of crime bills, all of which work to lengthen imprisonment for individuals convicted of crime – at a time when crime is actually decreasing. His “Truth in Sentencing” legislation, already passed, is filling Canada’s jails and is estimated to cost taxpayers more than $5 billion over the next five years. The costs of his proposed legislation, particularly mandatory minimum terms for drug offenders, have not been disclosed – an approach that led to his government being found in contempt of Parliament.  If enacted, almost all experts agree that his proposed legislation will cost Canadians billions. So much for improvements in health care and education – they will have to take a back seat to locking people up.

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Trying to Understand the Tougher Sentences of the Harper Conservatives: You Don’t Need Evidence — You’ve Got To Have Faith

Saturday, February 26th, 2011

The Harper Conservatives are under fire for their extraordinarily expensive legislative initiative, Bill S-10. Among other things, it seeks to spend at least hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayers dollars on prison building, in order to impose a mandatory minimum term of six months in jail for anyone who grows more than six marijuana plants. Most Canadians, experts and non-experts alike, have criticized the proposal as costly and counter-productive, noting that it will imprison individuals who are mostly non-violent and who sell to willing adult consumers.

It’s not that marijuana is benign. For some people and in some circumstances it can be a problematic drug, as can most other psychoactive substances that are widely circulated in our culture – tobacco, alcohol, caffeine, maybe even chocolate. What’s initially much more puzzling is the extent to which the Harper Conservatives are ignoring all relevant evidence regarding the utility of mandatory minimum terms for drug offences. We know that mandatory minimums are the leading cause of the massive explosion in U.S. prison populations, imposing extraordinary costs without any demonstrable benefits – the percentages of Americans who use cannabis and other illegal drugs has not been impacted by this massive project of imprisonment, and today most American legislators of both the political left (Barack Obama) and the right (Newt Gingrich) are now trying to figure out how to make the criminal justice system less reliant on imprisonment, and more effective. Perhaps even more oddly, the percentage of both Canadians and Americans who used cannabis in the last year sits at 10 per cent,  about 50 per cent higher per capita than the percentage of Dutch citizens who used cannabis –  a country in which the drug can be bought without prosecution, at any number of so-called coffee shops.

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More Prison Cells? A Poor Return on Taxpayer Dollars — and Less, not More Confidence in Our Justice System

Monday, December 6th, 2010

Last week’s announcement by Public Safety Minister Vic Toews was disheartening, but predictable. In the face of stable or declining crime rates, the Harper Conservatives want to lock up more of their fellow citizens for longer periods of time, not because they think this will enhance social safety , but because they believe in punishment for its own sake; the strategy also serves to entrench their base of support amongst their hard core “law and order” supporters.

The difficulty for the Harper Conservatives is that the best available evidence demonstrates that their very costly approach — $80 million in B.C. alone — won’t enhance social safety at all. Recent research comparing about 30 nation-states reveals that there is no systematic relationship between rates of imprisonment and rates of crime. The extent to which a given country imprisons its citizens has no meaningful connection to the extent of crime that it experiences.  For example, between 1950 and 2000 criminal offences rose in Denmark, Finland, Sweden and Norway, in remarkably similar trajectories. At the same time, however, rates of imprisonment were quite  varied  from one country to the next, with Finland consistently decreasing its rate of imprisonment over time.  An example closer to home?  The U.S. homicide rate is at least three times as high as that of almost  all Western states and yet the U.S. imprisons more of its population per capita than any other country in the world.

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The United Nations on Drugs: Alice in Wonderland Revisited

Saturday, September 18th, 2010

The most recent edition of The Guardian Weekly, a typically “progressive” news outlet, devoted a full page to the wildly speculative musings of Antonio Maria Costa, the outgoing director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

Mr. Costa made three key claims, none of which have any compelling empirical support. First, he argued that making illegal drugs more freely available will lead to more “public health damage”.

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On the Farm: Book Review

Saturday, September 18th, 2010

On The Farm: Robert William Pickton and the Tragic Story of Vancouver’s Missing Women, Stevie Cameron, Knopf Canada, 726 pages, ISBN 978-0-676-97584-0, $35.00

The wretched saga of Willie Pickton has taken centre stage in the province of British Columbia for more than a decade, capturing our attention in staccato bursts – the escalating disappearance of women from Vancouver’s downtown eastside, the search for a serial killer, the arrest of Willie Pickton, the exhaustive forensic investigation of his Port Coquitlam pig farm, his preliminary hearing and trial, and the ensuing revelations of the grotesque character of his crimes.

Stevie Cameron’s “On the Farm” captures much of this history and more, taking us from Willie Pickton’s childhood to his trolling for victims, typically drug addicted prostitutes, on the downtown eastside of Vancouver. She describes the personal histories of many of the missing women – their upbringings in often troubled homes, their difficulties in adjusting to schools and community, their drift into substance abuse and prostitution, and the circumstances of their disappearance, typically lured to the pig farm with the promise of good money and free drugs.

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Cheech and Chong/Stephen Harper

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

Not surprisingly, Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong are not very impressed with Stephen Harper’s plans to intensify the war against cannabis and its derivatives. They noted earlier this week that the Prime Minister appears to have his head up George Bush’s butt (they are speaking metaphorically, I assume); their advice is characteristically blunt, “Wise up, you douchebag”.

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Canada Day Resolution: Stop Building More Prisons

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

In these days of public sector restraint there is one realm of waste that is often neglected – the planned and pointless expenditure of billions of tax dollars on new provincial and federal prisons, the consequence of a series of Conservative crime bills.

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Responding to Crime: Fear Drives Politics

Monday, May 31st, 2010

In 1910 Winston Churchill stated that one of the “unfailing tests” of a civilization lies in how it treats crime and criminals. In 1967 Pierre Trudeau told Canadians that the state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation.

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Forty Years of Marijuana Research: Reflections on 4/20 and the Prospects for Change

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

My first foray into marijuana research began 40 years ago, in the spring of 1970. It was what sociologists call participant observation research; I smoked some hashish with my friends in my final year of high school, and observed its effects on my behaviour. I noticed that the experience enhanced my appreciation of music, increased my appetite, and made me laugh at things that I might not ordinarily think were very funny. In sum, not a bad way to spend an evening in a small town in Ontario. Not as wild and crazy as an alcohol-fueled evening, but not entirely disappointing either.

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