Bob Rae can gripe about “evidence-based decision making” all he likes. The truth is that, on the big economic files, Conservatives are the party most consistently hewing to reason and common sense. It’s why they keep getting elected.
All of which makes their bizarrely irrational, hamfisted, counterproductive handling of justice and security all the more odd. What do Rob Nicholson and Vic Toews think they’re achieving, beyond throwing occasional hunks of dripping meat to a social conservative base that, truth be told, is secure without it? Are they afraid the Charles Bronsons across the aisle will accuse them of being soft on crime? Here’s a thought: Perhaps Tories should rather begin to worry that fair-minded Canadians from all regions may come to view them as demagogues.
Consider the record. First, prison farms: not a kitchen-table issue for most voters, admittedly. But in their insistence on shutting the six farms down (in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and New Brunswick), despite negligible savings and plentiful evidence they were functioning well, Harper Co. displayed a dogged irrationality: Prisoners are bad. Why should they be allowed to work outdoors, whatever the merits, when they can be locked away instead?
There was the Tackling Violent Crime Act – its centrepiece, mandatory minimums for people convicted of “serious gun crimes.” Tuesday the National Post reported that Ontario Superior Court Judge Anne Molloy has gutted that law, finding that a minimum three-year-sentence for a young man guilty of being ridiculous (Leroy Smickle was collared, thank God, while pretending to be gangsta, waving a pistol while striking poses for a webcam), violates constitutional prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment.
There’s Bill C-10 itself – a grab bag of nine pieces of legislation the Tories tried but failed to land premajority. Nicholson, the justice minister, insists it’s all about cracking down on pedophiles and organized crime. The bill says different: Possession of as few as six marijuana plants can confer a six-month stay in jail. We’re asked to assume the small fry needn’t worry, as police and prosecutors will apply common sense. Hmm. As they did in the Smickle case?
I’ve smoked pot, like most adult Canadians, and have friends who smoke it therapeutically. I’m not a big fan. In my experience marijuana induces only ravenous hunger and sleep. I don’t think it should be legal. But neither do I see cause for further criminalization. What’s the rationale? Apply the logic of the gun-registry debate. Is a criminal biker gang likely to be driven out of the trade by C-10? Criminals don’t register their grow-ops. If anything, further criminalization is likely to drive their profits higher.
More to the point, there is no crime wave. It bears repeating: Rates of violent crime have fallen steadily since the early 1990s. Statistics show that rates for many crimes correspond simply to ups and downs in the economy. That tells us that the so-called toughon-crime agenda is mainly theatre – a passion play intended to mollify social conservatives, rather than a lever to effect change. Based on the evidence, Canada doesn’t need C-10. The Conservatives believe they need it. There is a difference.
But all that has been a mere preamble to two astonishing recent forays by Public Safety Minister Toews. First it emerged that in 2010 he told the Canadian Security Intelligence Service that where human life is at risk, Canadian spies can use information obtained by torture – overturning years of Canadian policy, including Conservative policy, and the findings of the 2005 Arar Inquiry.
No answer yet, to this question: When, where the security agencies are involved, is human life not at risk?
Then this week, not to be outdone by himself, Toews blurted that opposition critics of his new online surveillance bill, tabled Tuesday – which gives police unprecedented power to obtain private data without a warrant – are siding with “child pornographers.”
Really? The Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the federal and Ontario privacy commissioners have serious concerns about this bill. Are they in cahoots with the child pornographers, too? For that matter, is anyone critical of the Conservatives’ security agenda in league with either the terrorists or the child pornographers? If so, that makes for a lot of terrorists and a great many child pornographers. Perhaps Canada is in the throes of a crime wave after all.
The Conservatives won a majority last May, rather than another minority, because thousands of centrist voters decided that Stephen Harper wasn’t as scary as previously billed. Do they really want to tip that apple cart? Toews should give his head a shake. If he can’t or won’t, the prime minister should.