Justice reform and Roman circuses
The core constituency of the Reform cum Canadian Alliance segment of the present-day Conservative Party of Canada has a number of issues that most mainstream Canadians either disagree with, or give little thought to.
Every now and again, when the Conservative government gets accused of ignoring its base, the government will throw a bone to these right-wingers in an effort to keep them on side.
Crime, convicts and wimpy, weakkneed, small ‘ l’ liberal judges are topics that are near the top of every right-winger’s list of “the problems with this country are. . . .” A mere mention of any one of these topics almost always guarantees these people will work themselves into a full-fledged rant in a matter of nano-seconds.
A brief conversation with one of these fine, upright citizens will leave you with the impression they are sorry, truly sorry, that Canada has forsaken hanging and other forms of capital punishment, the rack, the lash and amputation. Being left with nothing but prison time is of little consolation to them for giving up the previously mentioned effective ways of dealing with the criminal element in society.
Should you not be able to get away, and the conversation drags on, you might well be left with the impression that these people have only a passing interest in justice, but are quite focused on revenge. Given their point of view, one should be thankful that Mr. Harper’s government has, to date, only tinkered with the justice system, such as limiting the discretion of judges, imposing more and more mandatory sentences (this one’s a favourite), and cutting down on eligibility for parole. The Conservatives have yet to insist that victims, the family of victims or friends of the victim, sit on the juries to ensure the accused is dispatched with haste and salted away until his or her teeth and hair fall out.
Mr. Harper is blatantly political in his reforms to the justice system. In the middle of the last election campaign there was a violent teenaged gang war in Toronto, and an innocent young girl was murdered. Mr. Harper jumped into this highly politicized atmosphere, quickly proposing a lower legal age for juveniles so young offenders could be charged as adults and face longer prison sentences.
It seems the concept of rehabilitation is so foreign to small ‘c’ conservatives that Mr. Harper couldn’t imagine anyone would disagree with them. To the shame of both the NDP and the Liberals, they either agreed with him, or avoided the issue.
In Toronto, people forgot that these were kids. Violent and rotten, yes, but, kids with malleable minds that no one was interested in. No one cared that in prison they would have hardened criminals as teachers. Revenge was sought.
Quebec is a much more social democratic society, with a highly successful juvenile justice system. Quebec believes in rehabilitation and it incarcerates fewer juveniles than other provinces. As much as possible, juvenile offenders are kept in society, not isolated in prisons or reform schools. They are closely supervised by social workers as well as by justice personnel. It is not perfect, but the number of repeat offenders is much less than in other provinces.
Of course, professional advice and statistics that ran counter to the Conservative mind-set was ignored by their campaign; they had a winning issue and they were running with it. But, they lost half of their Quebec seats. Some political observers say the Conservatives’ stance on juvenile crime contributed to those losses, which resulted in Mr. Harper failing to form a majority government. Justice delivered.
A year has passed, charges were laid and people convicted in the Toronto murder. Now, the criminal flavour of the month, thanks to Bernie Madoff and some Canadian imitators, is fraud, Ponzi schemes and other white-collar crimes. For more than six months, the headlines, when they haven’t been about the rotten economy, have been about rotten stock brokers and financial planners.
And what does the government do? Like the Caesars and their circuses, it plays to the mob.
Justice Minister Rob Nicholson announced last week that he would bring in legislation that will require sentences of at least two years for fraud over $1 million, which apparently from press reports is about the length of sentences already being handed down.
But that doesn’t matter. What counts is, it’s more red meat for the justice dogs on the rabid right of the new Conservative Party of Canada.