Costly Crime Bill Sure to Intensify Justice System’s Problems

The majority Conservative government unveiled sweeping new laws Tuesday to make teenage troublemakers, pot growers and assorted bad guys quiver and quake.

With the Safe Streets and Communities Act, the Tories have bundled together nine supposed crime-fighting initiatives they couldn’t get passed with a minority and have vowed to ram the omnibus bill through Parliament.

Someone forgot to tell them the War on Drugs has failed.

The Canadian Bar Association slammed the anachronistic package, saying the legislation runs contrary to what is known to lead to a safer society.

The bill will exacerbate already serious criminal-justice problems, with huge resource implications, said the group that represents some 37,000 legal professionals.

Forget about scaring evildoers; the bill frightened nearly everyone but cops and jailers, who’ll benefit from the increased work, and victims yearning for a return to Old Testament-style sentences.

We’re going to see courthouses, pre-trial centres and provincial jails bursting at the seams. Judges now must impose mandatory jail time for a broad group of offences.

Faced with this regime, there will be fewer plea deals and far less incentive for the guilty to quickly resolve a charge carrying one of the new unavoidable prison terms.

Many of the measures seem unnecessary; specialists seriously doubt their efficacy and the extra money they require could be much better spent.

The Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies and the John Howard Society of Canada say these measures could bankrupt us.

A similar lock-’em-up approach in the U.S. has pushed many states, including California, into financial meltdown.

Catherine Latimer, executive director of the John Howard Society, said Canadian prisons and jails are so stuffed they may already violate charter protections against cruel and unusual punishment.

Corrections Canada estimates the cost of the system will rise to $3 billion this fiscal year from $1.6 billion in 2006, when Prime Minister Stephen Harper took power.

Crime rates may be at historic lows, but the Tories scoff that’s because only a third of Canadians who are victims report crimes to police.

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson dismisses the well-reasoned criticism and evidencebased critiques with a veritable avalanche of Dirty Harryinspired rhetoric.

He plays the Artful Dodger when questioned about the costs of the act. Crime costs the economy $99 billion annually, is his snappy response.

“And most of that is borne by victims,” the justice minister insists.

“The people we’ll be taking off the street are people who should be off the street. There’s a cost when those individuals are out on the street, and we’re prepared to meet the cost of detaining those individuals.”

And even when they’re back on the street, the government intends to all but ensure they can never put their mistakes behind them by changing the pardon rules and upping the fees from $150 to more than $600.

“Quadrupling the cost of pardons leaves 2.7 million Canadians that currently qualify for one unable to travel, go to school, or work,” said Ainsley Muller, an expert in criminal records from Express Pardons.

“Harper’s crime agenda is completely out of touch with what Canada actually needs.”

But it’s hard to argue with the minister when his winger is former NHL player Sheldon Kennedy, a victim of childhood sexual abuse who has worked as a high-profile advocate for the last 13 years.

Kennedy applauded Nicholson, complaining his abuser was released after 18 months and got a “rubber stamp” pardon: “Victims are scarred for life, and [their abusers]are not rehabilitated in 18 months.”

No, the system is not perfect but this hodgepodge is an overreaction and ignores real and pressing issues.

Bad guys are walking free because it takes years to get them to trial. The legal system has been beggared by government cutbacks.

Interim Liberal leader Bob Rae said the government was headed down an “ideological” road that has more to do with its “obsession” with the “symbolism” of denouncing crime than increasing public safety.

It’s hard not to agree. And more legislation is on the way, Nicholson promised, including new measures for Internet surveillance and citizen’s arrests.

I hear he plans to replace the current constitutional charter warning for criminals with a more pithy “Go ahead, punk, make my day.”

– Article from The Vancouver Sun.