Little Fish in a Giant pond

Friday, February 29, 2008

Blasting Tory Crime Policy

Recently a friend of mine, Mr. David D'Intino, received a letter from his member of Conservative member of parliament and member of the standing committee on justice, Rick Dykstra, regarding their mutual interest in criminal justice. Dave is currently studying for his masters in criminology at Carleton University (AKA "Ottawa's OTHER university"), I rather enjoyed reading Dave's response, here it is:

Mr. Dykstra,

I recently received a mail correspondence from your office indicating that you’ve taken notice of my interest in criminal justice issues. I am humbled that my articles have caught your eye. Please understand however that your goals for criminal justice reform and those that I have advocated for are not the same. While your government continues to take cues from our neighbours to the south and you constantly introduce expensive, repressive criminal justice measures that serve the interests of the richest 10% of the country, I propose reforms that serve the forgotten 90% of society and have as their target true social justice.

You’ll notice Mr. Dykstra that I don’t pull any punches, therefore I will get straight to the point. If you want any support not only from myself, but from other criminal justice reformers and academics then you need to start listening to us and not to your colleagues to the south or the wealthy in the gated communities. The measures your government is proposing will quickly turn this country into the United States, where more than 25% of the country is incarcerated and social inequality has reached epidemic proportions. All of the literature from the 1920’s until now have demonstrated that mandatory minimum sentences, drug prohibition, more police, etc do not reduce crime and do more social harm than good. There is zero excuse for you to be introducing more of the same uninformed, ineffective, anti-scientific garbage you call legislation.

Your Age of Protection Legislation sounds nice, but is mere window dressing. Seeing as how individuals under the age of 18 cannot consent to sexual activity with an adult anyhow, the changes you are proposing will only affect teenagers who have sex with each other. Understand Mr. Dykstra that it is not the government’s place to dictate what constitutes appropriate behaviour among teenagers and the public will not stand for attempts to legislate teenage sexuality. Canada has sufficient laws to deal with adult sexual predators and your proposed legislation is nothing new.

While I agree in theory with stronger prohibitions against individuals possessing handguns (in fact I favour an outright ban on them) understand that a reverse-onus provision in this legislation is dangerous. Much research has been conducted on the equality of legal representation in Canada and needless to say, not all individuals have access to quality representation. Overtaxed public defenders are not paid enough and don’t care enough to properly defend these individuals and therefore very few individuals will have the resources necessary to put forth a cogent argument as to why they should be released from prison. It has long been a central tenet of the English Common Law that the government must prove its case against the accused. If you change this long-standing principle, it will set a dangerous precedent for legal reform

In regard to your drug crime reforms you no doubt read my article in the Ottawa Citizen in May 2006. I hope you liked it because it will be popping up again all over the country, including a 50 page version in a particularly influential academic journal. Urine, Saliva and Blood tests are unreliable in determining how or when a drug was ingested and furthermore whether or not an individual is actually impaired. Your proposed DRE training is disconcerting for many reasons, primarily due to its subjective nature. If you cannot conclusively and objectively demonstrate an individual willing took a substance that impaired his ability to operate a motor vehicle (which you cannot do at this time) then a politician cannot pass that legislation in good conscience. I do support stronger sentences against violent drug cartels and producers of drugs, but only if they are coupled with more relaxed attitudes toward recreational drug users, especially marijuana users and also increased funding and support to Harm Reduction strategies such as Needle Exchange Programs which have been demonstrated time and again to reduce HIV and Hepatitis transmission rates and drug related crime (See Switzerland, Germany and Liverpool, England 1990’s).

In reference to your Youth Criminal Justice Act reforms, your statement in the letter I received is a bit confounding. You say you have introduced Bill C-25 to allow judges to impose sentences that reflect the community’s disapproval of criminal acts, which will in turn deter them from committing serious crimes. If you truly believe this then you haven’t your homework. I don’t know how many times we academics need to say this – The Criminal Law is not a General Deterrent!!! There are volumes of literature that have proven this. This fact has been known for hundreds of years! Why do you keep repeating it, it is insulting! The YCJA was designed to rehabilitate youth to prevent them from landing in prison and now you want to add harsher sentences? Is that what you would want for your two daughters if they had mental disorders, or were abused and got in trouble with the law? I’m not sure what your thoughts are on the matter Mr. Dykstra, but children don’t freely choose to become murders or thieves, they don’t choose to be abused and raped. You might want to deny it, but physical, sexual and emotional abuse happen every day in every neighbourhood. Some children cope with it better than others, but most cannot. The school system does not have enough funds to have social workers and psychiatrists at every school every week (although I have advocated for this). I have friend who work in the social system and end with kids in group home who have been moved over 15-20 times in the past year because they haven’t had the counselling or love that they need. You and I have turned out great, but not every kid has a great family, a good education or even healthy food. Sending these kids to prison as opposed to getting them counselling or psychiatric care or a loving family will only breed monsters. No one is ever the same when they leave from prison. That is akin to prescribing more rape for a rape victim!

Lastly, Pre-Trial and Pre-Sentencing Custody Credits have limits. Usually they cannot exceed a credit of two years time. A ‘dangerous’ offender would likely get a life sentence and thus 25 years. This is not a pressing issue. It is up to the court to decide how much time an individual must spend in prison, not you. Your party frequently portrays the justice system as being soft and yet Canada has one of the highest incarceration rates per capita and crime rates do not change, Your focus should be on Crime Prevention Through Social Development and Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design rather than repressive criminal law reform. Canadians aren’t stupid Mr. Dykstra, do not treat them as such.

In your upcoming budget, I would like to see mandatory crime prevention programs administered by the three levels of government and not the police. I would like to see 5 billion dollars in funding not a few million here and there. I would like to see permanent funding for Needle Exchange Programs. I would like to see a comprehensive Anti-Poverty Strategy combined with a National Job Creation Program, a National Day Care Program, reduced income tax for low and middle class families, higher tax burdens on the rich and more tax credits for college and university students. I would like to see the decriminalization of personal possession of marijuana, heroin and cocaine, increased funding for drug and alcohol treatment and education. I would like to see funding for all Canadian School Boards to be used to hire full-time social works and psychiatrists in all elementary and high schools. Lastly, I would like to see a multi-billion dollar community development fund that economically depressed cities such as St Catharines could use to revitalize themselves.

These are the kinds of changes that Canadians need to see. These are the substantive reforms that need to occur in order for our communities to be safer AND HEALTHIER for EVERYONE – not just your wealthy white constituents. Unless these types of changes occur, your government will continue to be assaulted in every newspaper, in every news report, in every journal until it falls.

Have a glorious day,

David J. D’Intino, B.Soc.Sci


  • When and how do I vote for your friend? If only we had people with his grasp running the show now.

    By Blogger Jay, at 11:40 AM  

  • the United States, where more than 25% of the country is incarcerated

    Someone might want to fix that typo. I hope the remainder of his letter is more accurate.

    By Blogger rabbit, at 1:06 PM  

  • I honestly couldn't tell you what the correct percentage is. I can certainly agree with you that when one writes a letter to his member of parliament, he would want to pay extra attention to spelling mistakes and/or typos, and especially on such a crucial point (I am assuming that it is a typo).

    Just the same, everybody makes mistakes, it's only human. I don't think that this mistake takes anything away from the point it is there to make, which is that an alarmingly high rate of Americans are incarcerated.

    By Blogger Fish, at 1:32 PM  

  • Um, if we wanted these lefty policies we'd vote NDP now wouldn't we?

    Never ceases to amaze me when people expect politicians to make policies that go entirely against the grain of their political philosophy and platform.

    I suspect there's a threshold for deterrance that is pretty low. Most people don't want to go to jail period, so whether the sentence is 5, 7, or 10 years doesn't really make a big difference in whether they commit the crime or not. That doesn't mean you should have no punishment at all, or extremely lax punishments. To say punishment does not act as a deterrent is ludicrous.

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