Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper kicked off his first Conservative-majority Parliament on September 19 by introducing changes to the criminal justice system that seek to put more people in prison and keep them there longer.
The Tory crime bill imposes mandatory minimum sentences and restricts the availability of house arrest, thus depriving judges of discretion in such matters. These measures are not aimed only at serious offences: a person caught with as little as six marijuana plants would now face at least six months in jail.
The bill also downgrades almost all factors for consideration in the correctional and parole process, including the special needs of First Nations. This risks increasing the First Nations’ incarceration rate, which is already scandalous at 17 percent of the overall prison population. Aboriginal peoples make up less than 3 percent of adult Canadians.
Behind this regressive law-and-order crackdown by Harper is the uncontested fact that crime rates have been falling steadily in Canada for the past twenty years. This has led to much criticism of the reform bill, including by many in the mainstream media. The Globe and Mail mockingly called it the “Prison is the Answer to Everything” bill. The Toronto Star denigrated it as “a classic of misplaced priorities, a wholesale assault on a problem that doesn’t exist” that will cost billions. Star columnist Carol Goar warns that Harper’s adoption of U.S.-style crime policies will lead to a “disproportionate increase in the number of poor, non-white people behind bars.”
The Conservatives tried to pass many of the same provisions in previous parliamentary sessions, when they ruled as a minority government. However, they were blocked by the opposition parties, including the labour-based New Democratic Party.
Now back with a majority, the Conservatives warn that this bill is “just the beginning.” As we witness the highly controversial execution of Troy Davis in Georgia, and the recent hunger strikes by prisoners in California, we shudder to think what else Stephen Harper has in mind.
Socialists demand that the Conservative crime bill be withdrawn, and that the government focus its efforts on crime prevention rather than fear-mongering and punishment. We demand that special attention be given to young persons, women and aboriginals who are involved in the criminal justice system. Education and good jobs, not punishment for being poor, should be at the center of society’s agenda.
> The article above was written by Eric Kupca.