Archive for the 'Law' Category

Another NDP Government? Reflections on 35 years in British Columbia

Monday, May 13th, 2013

I arrived in British Columbia in the fall of 1978 and was quickly made aware of the politics of the province. There was something close to caricature in the divide between left and right. – the NDP, led by social worker and democratic socialist Dave Barrett, and the Social Credit government, with its focus on public sector restraint, led by Kelowna businessman Bill Bennett.

The election of 1979 was close, but the result was not unexpected. The Social Credit government maintained its majority, and Dave Barrett continued as leader in opposition. But the election of 1983 was different. On the morning of the election I had happily proclaimed to anyone who would listen that this was the last day of Social Credit government in the province.  The 1982 recession and investigations of both insider trading and securities fraud were taking a toll.

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The Rule of Law: Reflections on Ukraine, the Brothers Ford, and Regulating Cannabis

Sunday, January 13th, 2013

“I don’t believe in much”, my friend Bob said not long ago, “but I do believe in the rule of law”. And so it is with me as well. Forget the remote possibility of various rulers in the sky and elsewhere. I’m more interested in working out the fairness and legitimacy of the rules that speak to reconciling the inevitable tensions that exist amongst individuals, nation states, and the global community.

Not long after flying into Kiev, Ukraine in late November, I began to understand that this was a nation state without any fundamental adherence to the rule of law.  The former Prime Minister and oligarch Yulia Tymoshenko is in jail, imprisoned for seven years over a natural gas contract signed with Russia in 2009.  The United States, Russia, the UK, the European Union and NATO have all condemned the charges and her imprisonment as the “selective prosecution” of political opponents. Human rights organizations have, not surprisingly, been similarly critical.

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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 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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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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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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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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