Election 2011 UnSpun

Harper’s Crime Bill: Bad for Canada, Bad for Manitoba

by Errol Black

Stephen Harper dropped his omnibus crime bill this week, confident that his majority government will be able to ram it through the House of Commons with little opposition. 

Manitoba Conservative party leader Hugh McFadyen welcomed the legislation with much enthusiasm, declaring that: “The Conservative government in Ottawa has brought forward strong new laws that will help provinces crack down on crime.” 

In contrast, people who are knowledgeable about Harper’s omnibus crime bill and it implications argue that it is backwards and that it will perpetuate the status quo on a grander scale.  As well, it will impose significant costs on the provinces with little impact on crime. 

Paula Mallea, who practiced as a criminal lawyer in Brandon, Manitoba for many years and is now a member of the national board of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, condemns the Harper bill in a letter published in the Brandon Sun (“Speak out against Harper’s crime bill,” September 22, 2011).

In her letter, Mallea says that “the ominbus crime bill will send us back to a 19th century punishment model,” and offers a number of reasons to justify mass citizen opposition to the law, including:

  • Informed individuals in other countries have cautioned Canada not to follow mistakes made in the U.S. such as mandatory minimum sentences and the lack of rehabilitative programs; 
  • The cost of the crime agenda will be huge for lower levels of government. “Provinces will be expected to pay for additional courts, clerks, prisons, Crown attorneys, judges, sheriffs, court reporters and so on. The costs that will be passed on to provinces will run into billions of dollars;
  •  For the most part, the legislation is intended to put more people into prison with longer sentences. “The legislation does nothing “to prevent crime, help victims or target guns, gangs, drugs and organized crime;”  
  • Other jurisdictions, most notably the U.S., have tried this approach without success. Many states are now “abolishing mandatory minimum sentences and reducing the proportion of sentences which must be served before release”and;
  • This legislation will result in “an increase in misery for all parties, including offenders’ families and communities, and victims (who advocate for improvements in preventive and rehabilitative programs).  The picture becomes darker when you consider that up to 80-90 per cent of offenders in some institutions are [addicted to drugs or alcohol], and up to 40 per cent have mental illnesses. A huge proportion [especially in the prairie provinces] are Aboriginal people.   Many offenders are homeless, illiterate, victims of sexual abuse, and so on.”  One of the biggest costs in both economic and human terms of Harper’s legislation is that tens of thousands of people who need help to become contributing citizens will be denied access to services that would allow them to do this.

In sum, the burden of Mallea’s message is that we should insist that party leaders in Manitoba commit to seeking changes to the omnibus crime bill that will better address the issues of concern to this province, taking as a starting point the proposition that we cannot afford to divert resources from programs we now have to counter crime to an agenda imposed by Ottawa that is contrary to the interests of our citizens.

Errol Black is the Chair of CCPA-MB.  Paula Mallea is the author of a book titled, The Fear Factor: Stephen Harper’s Tough on Crime Agenda.  Lorimer Publishing will be releasing her book this fall. 

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