Saturday, 5 November 2011

Crime Laws

The Harper Government (because that's what we're told to call it) claims to want to keep me safer. That's reassuring. I like safe. A few months ago we were out for an evening walk and came around the corner to the aftermath of a pepper spray or bear spray (I don't know the difference) attack. I can't imagine what it would be like to get the full blast because what was hanging in the air was bad enough. There was also lots of swearing going on and one group of youths moving one direction laughing and boasting and another guy and the woman with him trying to recover. I want to be kept safe from that.

Similarly, if I believe the emphasis in my local media and what gets the headlines, I would have the impression that there's been an incredible increase in violence - particularly gun violence. And yet, crime rates are continuing to trend lower - across the country. They have been for nearly ten years. Of course there are exceptions and we should fully support victims of crime in any way we can. Maybe we need to do more. People who have been robbed tell me that it feels like an incredible violation and leaves them with all manner of insecurities. And I can't imagine what I would feel or want to do if someone close to me were the victim of violence or murder.

But that's me personally! I expect my government to try and lead us to a better level not accelerate the race to the bottom. If I want revenge I expect a civilized government to control that urge - not institutionalize it! We might say that it's a good idea for government to get out ahead of the curve in terms of emerging problems. To prepare laws in anticipation of developing areas of crime. We might say it but it doesn't happen often. In this case, the government is behind the curve - particularly the statistical curve of downward crime rates. But this is the government that trashed Stats Can. This is the government whose chief spokesperson on the file, Solicitor General Rob Nicholson, is quoted in the media as dismissing decreasing crime rate statistics, claiming to be more interested in Canadians' safety than in such numbers Some of us with long memories recall Mr Nicholson as a member of the Mike Harris ("Common Sense Revolution") government in Ontario, telling the constituents in Kingston and the Islands not to expect any government money (like roads, bridges, schools, hospital upgrades, etc) because the riding dared to return a Liberal MPP. This is the government which seemed, not long ago, to be caught up in the radical increase in "unreported crime," though I don't recall them explaining how they could track something that was unreported.

Like I said, I want to be safe. And I deal too often with the victims of our inhumanity to one another. And yes, when I'm hurt or those I love are hurt, I sometimes want revenge. But is there any evidence to suggest that we will be any safer if we build more jails, lock up more people, limit the discretion of crown attorneys and judges and lengthen sentences - across the board? Most studies indicate that increased rates of incarceration, after a certain point, simply lengthen the amount of time that people spend in "a school of crime." They emerge more hardened, more isolated from society as a whole, with fewer skills and face greater barriers to their efforts to reintegrate with the rest of the country. So, they re-offend and the sad cycle continues. There is no evidence that increased sentences serve as a deterrent. But all that comes from studies and Conservative members of Parliament dismiss such reports and their authors as being too remote from what's happening with real Canadians. Which being translated means, Canadians who agree with us.

Isn't it astonishing how we can find the billions of dollars for putting more people in jail for longer stretches (although increasing numbers of provinces are coming forward saying that if this is Ottawa's plan then Ottawa can pay the bills thank you) but we are one of the few countries in the developed world without a credible affordable housing strategy, where dozens of First Nations communities are under permanent boil water orders and where the numbers of children in poor families continues to increase? Will this massive crime bill make victims and their families feel better? Perhaps - and maybe if I was in that group my attitude would be different. But will it make us safer? Doesn't seem likely.

I guess I understand the politics of fear and division. It's been around for a long time. You create a sense of the group by cultivating a sense of fear of "the other." It works best if you can create a caricature of "the other" that no one has met, but who is lurking out there, just off stage, waiting to do horrible things. Then it becomes easy to cast oneself as the saviour of the "good folk." I'm not saying that everyone in the Harper government is that cynical. Some of them probably are but there are lots of people who believe that's the way the world is. Good folk and bad folk and everyone who is bad wilfully chose to prey on the rest. There are some wilfully bad folk - I've dealt with some. They see the rest of us as sheep for the shearing. But mostly I think that there aren't "good folk" and "bad folk" there are just "us folk" - all of us trying to get along on life's journey, seeking some very basic things, twisted out of our true humanity by the increasingly strident media voices, needing to be restored to our true humanity. Locking them up and throwing away the key builds up the divisions. It doesn't seem much of a way to accomplish healing for society or individuals.

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