Jus­tice re­form and Ro­man cir­cuses

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - Opinion - Alan Hol­man

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.

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