Archive for the 'Politics' 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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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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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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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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