Canada Day Resolution: Stop Building More Prisons

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.

Never mind that Canada already is a global leader in rates of incarceration, far ahead of almost all of the nation states of Western Europe – and, perhaps paradoxically, Canada typically has higher rates of crime. The more interesting and relevant finding from recent research is that rates of imprisonment and rates of crime are not related in any systematic way, from one nation state to the next. What is significant, however, is the relationship between confidence in the political and justice systems of a country and rates of imprisonment. Polls consistently demonstrate that nation states with the lowest rates of imprisonment also have citizens who have the highest levels of confidence in their political systems and their justice systems.

As one contemplates the lack of science in virtually every crime bill dutifully trotted out in Parliament by the Harper Conservatives, one is tempted to either laugh or cry. It’s easy to dismiss them as ideologically-driven fools (and there is certainly a wealth of evidence in support of such a proposition), but I think we have a deeper problem – a fundamental lack of belief in the tenets of science.

The Harper Conservatives are Republican talk show host Nancy Grace on steroids – shrill, angry and posturing. Consider the recent legislative initiative regarding mandatory minimum sentences for any person who grows more than six marijuana plants. Not mandatory minimum terms for cultivators who use or threaten violence, but mandatory minimums for those who simply grow the so-called “herb”. Does it make sense to spend billions of our tax dollars putting the producers of a relatively benign mind-active drug in jail, at the same time that the executives of tobacco and alcohol companies are regarding as contributing corporate citizens?

Of course not. This situation is a testament to the reality that we all go through life with cultural blinders, unable to see the absurdity and contradictions of the world in which we live. But enough of this. Best to enjoy Canada Day and hope that the federal government will not be quite so foolish as to spend our limited tax resources on the building of ever more prisons for those they choose to define as criminal.

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