Archive for the 'Politics' Category

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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Money for Nothing and Your Chicks for Free: Another Loss for Context and Subtlety

Friday, January 14th, 2011

A poll in this morning’s Globe and Mail asked its readers, “Do you think the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council was right to censor the gay slur in Dire Strait’s Money for Nothing”. The most popular response from more than 10,000 voters? A simple (and simplistic) yes. Forty per cent of those responding say “profanity and slurs should be banned from the airwaves”. The next most popular response? A simple (and simplistic) no. Thirty per cent say “radio stations should be free to play whatever they want”. The least popular response? “No, the word was used in context”.

It’s an interesting example, in what is arguably the most literate newspaper in the country, of our collective preference for black and white answers and our corresponding reluctance to embrace context and subtlety.

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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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The Millionaires of Cape Roger Curtis: The Day the Music Died

Monday, July 5th, 2010

I don’t want to talk about it, how you broke my heart…

By Neil Boyd and David Hocking

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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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