Stephen Harper: Tough on Crime, Short on Facts

Last week, I wrote a column on how the right-wing Tea Party movement in the United States is hijacking the Republican Party, moving it further to the right into a terrain where ideology takes precedence over fact, thus the title of my column, “When ideology trumps facts.”

This ideology over fact trend is not solely an American phenomenon; it is happening right here in Canada with the Harper Conservatives.

Ideology over facts in the Conservative government has been seen with the abolition of the long form census requirement, something that will greatly hinder data gathering, and with cutbacks to Environment Canada which performs important air quality monitoring services. Maybe this latter one reflects, as well, a nod to global warming deniers.

Prime Minister Harper, with a newly minted majority government, has much greater ability to implement his agenda, not needing to bargain or compromise with opposition parties. This is seen with the government’s omnibus crime bill, which has the benign-sounding name of The Safe Streets and Communities Act, which in many cases reintroduces measures from the previous Parliament disregarding most opposition amendments. Thus there is more room for a more stridently neo-conservative agenda, something clearly evident in this bill.

Already Conservatives have embarked on building more prisons, even while cancelling a prison farm program (an important rehabilitative program). Building more prisons is illogical, considering that crime rates have declined over the past 20 years, an especially baffling move given the current recession and scarce financial resources.

The stricter penalties contained in the omnibus bill, including imposing and raising minimum penalties for a range of offences, would send more people to jail for longer periods . This is a fiscally irresponsible move, one that reflects authoritarian tendencies, feeding on fears about crime and promoting increased incarcerations even though there is no evidence that this would reduce crime.

It’s a neo-conservative tough on crime approach without regards to facts.

CNN host Fareed Zakaria has highlighted, via twitter, that the United States, which employs the “tough on crime” focus on incarcerations, has less than five per cent of the world’s population yet almost one-quarter of the world’s inmates. Despite this, inner cities such as Detroit and Saint Louis continue to be unsafe, in large part because of structural problems, such as cycles of multi-generational poverty and the hopelessness that it creates, have not been adequately addressed.

Among concerning measures in the omnibus bill are those dealing with young offenders. Child and youth advocates across Canada have expressed concerns about the criminalization of youth through these measures, since more young people will be sentenced as adults and publication bans on some young offenders will be allowed to be lifted.

The advocate for British Columbia raised concerns that this could criminalize these youth, thereby increasing chances of re-offence. This is a particular concern as prisons act as “universities of crime.” Sending these youth to prison could harden them into a life of crime.

Christian Whalen, acting Child and Youth Advocate in New Brunswick, raised concerns about youth being put in prisons in situations where clinical intervention – for example, for mental health issues – are needed.

Also worrisome are provisions in the bill on drug trafficking, which represent a failed “war on drugs” approach. This includes mandatory jail sentences for “serious drug offences,” including six months in jail for growing six marijuana plants and two years for selling marijuana to someone under eighteen. Production of cannabis oil and resin would bring a year and a half in prison.

Someone in their late teens or early twenties, growing a few marijuana plants, could be sent to prison.

This also points to a startling hypocrisy, as it is hard to believe that there are not more than a few Conservative MPs who tried marijuana in their youth. This echoes the kind of phoney morality seen in the United States.

Another example of this moralism is with regards to strippers, with new powers to immigration officers to deny visas to “foreign strippers.” Again, how many Conservative MPs or staffers have been to a strip club?

Meanwhile, in all this, a true tackling of the root causes of crime is neglected, including tackling issues of poverty, mental health, and drug addiction.

The disregard for reality in favour of ideology, characteristic of the Tea Party-hijacked Republican Party in the United States, is also becoming a characteristic of the Conservative Party of Canada.

– Article originally from Telegraph Journal.