Monday, December 05, 2005

Harper's law-and-order drug talk the same failed approach

VICTORIA - It's hard to take seriously any politician who calls for mandatory minimum sentences.
That's what Stephen Harper did on his first campaign stop in B.C., casting himself as the non-nonsense sheriff from an old Western. It's time get tough on crime, especially drugs, said Harper. No conditional sentences, an end to harm reduction efforts like safe injection sites and mandatory minimum sentences for people who sell heroin, cocaine and crystal meth.
Mandatory minimum sentences are popular with politicians who can't figure out what else to do, in spite of two problems - they don't work, and they guarantee injustices.
In an earlier life I stood in a Red Deer church and watched a young mother and her three small children make their way to their usual pew without the dad who was there every Sunday. He was in a federal penitentiary.
The family business had been on the brink of collapse, and he was desperate, depressed and terrified. To get enough money to keep going for one more week he took an unloaded rifle and robbed a local bank branch, a stunningly stupid plan. He got about $2,000, was stopped by the police within five minutes, surrendered and admitted everything.
The sentencing guidelines then demanded a five-year minimum sentence for robbery with a weapon. So off he went to prison.
He had done a crime, and a serious one. The bank tellers were terrified, and despite the unloaded weapon something very bad could have happened.
But a five-year prison term made no sense.
Sentencing serves three purposes - to deter others who might offend, rehabilatate the criminal and express society's anger.
This sentence wasn't going to deter similar offenders; the essence of the crime was its lack of judgment and foresight. A five-year term wasn't needed to ensure rehabilitation, just some counselling. And most people reacted with compassion, not anger.
All that was really achieved by the strict sentencing rule was to wreck a family, leave three children without a father for a couple of years and send someone off for an expensive, destructive jail stay.
I have little doubt that without the minimum requirement, the court would have imposed house arrest or a brief jail stay.
Harper's proposed two-year minimum sentences for people arrested for drug trafficking would create the same injustices. A long sentence for a hapless addict for making a delivery or for people growing a dozen marijuana plants is not going to reduce crime.
Despite the promised minimum sentences, it's not even really going to happen. There isn't space in jails, for starters. B.C.'s prison costs are already expected to be $4 million over budget this year because of an increased number of inmates.
In fact mandatory minimum sentences often result in reduced penalties. Criminal Code penalties for impaired driving have become increasingly tough. The practical result has been that more people have fought the charges, and police and prosecutors can't handle the workload. Today only one-in-six drinking drivers caught by B.C. police is actually charged with a Criminal Code offence. The rest receive 24-hour roadside suspensions and are sent on their way.
Expect the same approach to small-time drug traffickers if Harper gets his way.
Harper's drug strategy is based on two basic fallacies - that drugs can be dealt with by attacking the supply side, and that addiction is a moral issue. "Our values are under attack," he said in Vancouver.
From Prohibition to today attacks on the supply side have failed. When enough people desperately want a product, others will profit by providing it.
The solution lies in reducing demand, through education, accessible treatment and and an attack on the issues - like poverty and mental illness - that drive addiction.
In the meantime, safe injection sites, methadone and even prescribed drugs help stabilize the problem and reduce the crime that comes when addicts scramble each day to stay alive.
Harper's drug plan is just more of the same tired, failed exercises.
Footnote: Crime is likely to continue to be an issue, because of high-profile killings in Toronto and a perception that addiction-driven property crime is a growing problem in many communities. But the fact remains that the rate for both violent crimes and homicides are lower today than they were a decade ago, according to StatsCan.


Anonymous said...

Has the Downtown Eastside been "stabilized" by safe injection sites? No it hasn't -- in fact, the situation has gotten worse. You also might want to ask the people of Maple Ridge how benevolent they are feeling towards the young meth addicts who have taken over their city core. We have tried the Larry Campbell approach, and it has been a dismal failure.

The kind of permissive approach you are talking about will only increase crime, as drugs become more socially acceptable and more and more young people turn to crime to get the money for their fixes. Count me in as one of the "dumb people" who think mandatory minimums are an excellent antedote to the out of touch judges who keep getting appointed to the bench.

P.S. The guy in Red Deer deserved his five year sentence. He robbed a bank with a weapon. Period. Full stop. There is nothing that mitigates this act.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with anonymous. The nice desperate guy broke the law. He deserves to pay the price. For every exceptional case like that there are a dozen idiots who couldn't be bothered to work for a living, going out and robbing people ot pay for drug habits or gambling habits or whatever. I have no sympathy for them. When you as a citizen of Canada are considering committing a criminal act to support anyone or anything, you have to ask yourself, are you willing to pay the price if you are caught? Is what you are doing worth the potential cost of doing it? If the answer is no, then don't do it! If we go soft on people they take advantage. I have a suggestion for you - if you have so much sympathy for drug addicts and thieves, go live in Whalley for a few years. After your home has been broken into and your car stolen and you find your children playing in your yard with used condoms and broken needles and empty lighters and untempered kitchen spoons, ask yourself how sympathetic you feel now towards those poor helpless victims who have made a victim out of you.

There is a reason why Chuck Cadman was one of the most respected politicians in BC and in Canada. He knew his constituents, and he knew what was most important to them. The voters of Surrey North, living in just the situation I described (I know because until September I lived there too) want criminals in jail. They want criminals to fear police. They want criminals to have the cold hand of fear reach through their drug-addled brains and shake some sense into them before they break into another car or house. That fear comes from consequences. Counselling is not a consequence. Free needles or Methadone or Heroin, red light districts are NOT consequences. They are permission.

Anonymous said...

The folks sure come up quickly with solutions. The needle exchange and the site has reduced greatly the overdoses. It's easy to say the addict is totally at fault so let them die. Who of us don't know someone addicted? If the centers close down the addict unfortualty die on the street in front of you. Cuts into the sales in the stores when the ambulances show up to lift them off the streets. 24 hour a day hock ships exist to feed the need of addicts.

One guy says it's not getting any better. How does he know? As for drugs being socially accpetable, which drugs are you talking about. Alcohol is a legal drug and kills large bunches of folks. Tobacco kills a lot of people yet others argue it's their right to smoke anyhwere.
The US government had prohibition once and it was a total disaster. Organized crime stepped in and made huge amounts of monny and they killed off their opposition at the same time.Their war on drugs is pretty laughable. If some Canadian does something dumb and trys to get money illegally at of all places a bank. Well throw him away. Bank rates went up again today. will it hurt anyone, of course it will. whewre they stupid to want to own a place to live? well maybe they were reaching too high.
The same bank loses millions on bad loans to other countries and sort of shrug.

Chuck Cadman got onto a one track crusade when his son got killed in some fight somehwere around his truck. The sicker cadman got, the more saintly he became.
Others deal with family death in other ways. Most don't run for parliamnet to press the loss of their children
Nobody wants to seeyouth get killed. But youth do get killed and often others don't seem to care. Street racing in very fast cars seems sort of acceptable.

Kids as young as 10 or 12 sell themsleves on the steet to someone. NO customers, not sales. They do so because someone else had got them hooked on some drug or other.

It's always simple to say. Throw them in the can and then throw away the key. Nobody asks what the costs of chucking them in the can for life will prove.

The guy who lost his way in desperation did a crime. But lots of rich folks do big crimes on a a regular basis. Property crimes seem to impress us more than violent ones. One guy bilked a large number of investors in this area and he still hasn't taken the fall. But he eventualy will as it is a crime against other investors and it makes them nervous.
So whats the difference.

One more thought Judges rule on standards set by politicians not personal whims. But why muddy an issue with a few facts.

Anonymous said...

"We have tried the Larry Campbell approach, and it has been a dismal failure. "

That's laughable -- we haven't begun to try the harm reduction approach. We have one safe injection site in a city that needs several. For harm reduction to be effective we need communities outside of Vancouver (ideally the entire country) to be on board.

Also, we've barely increased the amount of treatment beds for those who need them and I've seen no major effort to improve the education side of the equation. Fear mongering, instead educating our kids about drugs, will never be effective.

Anyone who thinks harm reduction (never mind our half-assed attempt at it) will solve our drug woes in a few short years is deluded. I would think it would take at least a generation before we could really measure change.

On the other hand, we have the abysmal record of the "war on drugs" to study, and it goes back decades. If any model has been failure, it's that one.

If one life was saved by the safe injection site then, imo, it's been a success. Add to that hundreds of heroin addicts who now regularly use clean needles (off the streets and alleyways) and I can't see how anyone doesn't consider it an improvement over where we've been.

By the way, I enjoyed this article Paul, thanks.

Anonymous said...

Its so tiring to see clowns like the commentators here whine about "Getting tough on crime". Cadman talked exactly how his consituents wanted him to talk and as a result all crime was eliminated in perpetuity from his district.
Here's an idea that neatly destroys leftist groaning about needed counselling services and mouth breather theories on "getting tough".

Shorten the work week.
If it doesn't make sense, its only because you haven't thought it through.