Crime and Punishment

Two Federal initatives have been getting a lot of attention lately: the omnibus crime bill and the elimination of the long gun registry. The problem is the government is simply replacing one bad policy with another.

The firearms registry (introduced in 1993) was basically a political response to the Ecole Polytechnique shooting in 1989. It was believed that by registering all firearms in the country, the level of gun-related crime would be controlled. Nice sentiment, but ultimately wrong for two reasons: 1. As registry opponents have often pointed out, criminals don’t report illegal weapons. 2. If somebody is going to simply snap and go postal one day, then knowing whether they do or do not own a gun isn’t going to prevent them from using it. Sure, the registry MIGHT help the police in domestic disturbance situations, but that’s about it. Basically, it’s a political solution to a political problem.

Then, you consider the cost: program spending is well documented to be well north of $2 billion since the program began. If the program was truly effective, the program might be worth it, but as it currently exists the government is simply flushing cash down the toilet.

Ok, so we bid farewell to the long gun registry. No tears shed over poor policy. But what’s on the horizon? The Safe Streets and Communities Act, better known as the omnibus crime bill.

The omnibus crime bill is a collection of individual proposals all rolled together into one bill. It includes:

1. Increased penalties for sexual offenses against children
2. Increased penalties for production and possession of illicit drugs for the purpose of trafficking
3. Elimination of conditional sentences or house arrest for violent crimes
4. Increased penalties for repeat and violent young offenders
5. Increased limitations on granting pardons
6. Increased limitations on criteria to transfer Canadian criminals abroad back to Canada
7. Increased obligations for offenders to victims including behavioural expectations and court-ordered restitution
8. Allow victims of terrorism to sue foreign individuals, groups or nations responsible for terrorism
9. Increased power to immigration officers to prevent human trafficking

Impressive, eh? Certainly, I’m not about to sit here and tell you longer terms for child molestors is a bad thing. There are a few initiatives in the omnibus bill that, were they evaluated individually, would be passed in a heartbeat. The problem is they’re not being evaluated indvidually. They’ve been submitted as a package, and must be considered as such. On that basis, the picture isn’t as pretty.

Right off the top, the government has provided no costing for this bill. Basically, there’s been no evaluation performed to determine what this package will cost Canadians so MPs are being asked to play russian roulette with our money. That doesn’t impress me at all. I work hard for my money. I’d expect the government to work equally hard at making sure they don’t waste it.

Ok, so we don’t know what it will cost. So what, right? Well, there’s a few other problems here. Look at the first four initiatives. They all refer to increased penalties or elimination of penalty options. That means more people in jail for longer. Did you know that it costs more than $80,000 per year for every male federal prisoner? For female prisoners, the cost is well over $100,000. That’s high. In fact, that’s well over the median household income in this country. More people in prison for longer means a LOT more money from us. If you think that’s no big deal then look south, where Republican hardasses like Jeb Bush and Rick Perry are part of an initiative called “Right On Crime”, which advocates doing pretty much the OPPOSITE of what the omnibus crime bill is doing. Don’t believe me? Look it up:

From there it just gets ridiculous. Victims of terrorism are allowed to sue terrorists? REALLY? Like our court system isn’t cluttered enough, we’re going to let people sue terrorists living in a mountain cave in Asia somewhere? Can you say “pointless”?

Don’t get me wrong. Individually, I can see a lot to recommend PARTS of the omnibus bill. Anybody can find something to like there. The problem is when you mash it all together and ignore the cost. I expect more of my government than that. We’re about to make the same mistakes that Republicans in the US are trying very hard to undo. I’m not even going to get into the issue of putting people in jail for 3 years for having a pot stash.

I don’t have a problem with crime prevention. I just want to see it done responsibly. The Firearms Registry was a Liberal initiative that cost a boatload of money and ultimately didn’t work. I won’t miss it. Unfortunately, the Safe Streets and Communities Act is a Conservative initiative that has the potential of costing even MORE and accomplishing just as little.

It’s long past time the political leaders in this country dealt with crime prevention on a responsible and logical basis. Partisan initiatives that play on the fear and ignorance of Canadians are an ineffective waste of our tax dollars. I may be naive, but I expect more of our leaders than that.

Thanks for reading.