Democracy Gone Astray

Democracy, being a human construct, needs to be thought of as directionality rather than an object. As such, to understand it requires not so much a description of existing structures and/or other related phenomena but a declaration of intentionality.
This blog aims at creating labeled lists of published infringements of such intentionality, of points in time where democracy strays from its intended directionality. In addition to outright infringements, this blog also collects important contemporary information and/or discussions that impact our socio-political landscape.

All the posts here were published in the electronic media – main-stream as well as fringe, and maintain links to the original texts.

[NOTE: Due to changes I haven't caught on time in the blogging software, all of the 'Original Article' links were nullified between September 11, 2012 and December 11, 2012. My apologies.]

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The mandatory minimum mess

The standard argument in favour of mandatory minimum sentences is that they deliver certainty. "If you do X, the minimum punishment you will receive is Y." It's simple, clear, and predictable. And that makes mandatory minimum sentences a powerful deterrent against crime.

The standard response to that argument is: "Look at the research. There's stacks of it. It proves that mandatory minimum sentences don't deter crime."

The standard response to that standard response is, well, nothing. Supporters of mandatory minimums simply ignore the research on deterrence. So let's save a little time today and skip it.

Go back to the initial claim that mandatory minimums produce clarity, simplicity, and predictability. "Do the crime, do the time." Is that true?

No. And I can demonstrate with two provisions in the Conservatives' omnibus crime bill.

The bill includes a mandatory minimum sentence of six months for growing more than five and fewer than 201 marijuana plants with the intent of trafficking. There's also a mandatory minimum sentence of nine months for anyone who grows between one and 201 marijuana plants for the purposes of trafficking when certain factors are present - among them, that "the person used real property that belongs to a third party in committing the offence."

Don't waste billions on 'tough-on-crime'

On the heels of their majority victory, the Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper pledged to pass an omnibus crime bill. Said bill is just the beginning of an ambitious war on crime that will radically change significant aspects of the country's Criminal Code and justice system. While some aspects of the bill may have merit, on balance, it's the wrong approach, at the wrong time, pursued for the wrong reasons.

Dubbed the "Safe Streets and Communities Act," Bill C-10 will no doubt appeal to those who view the justice system as "soft on crime," even though the facts suggest most of the changes are unnecessary or unwarranted. The bill bundles a number of crime-related initiatives including the imposition of mandatory minimum sentences for weapon and drug-related convictions, and expanding the list of offences where conditional sentences (such as house arrest) would not apply.

Meanwhile, crime rates in Canada are at the lowest since 1973, and longer prison sentences, increasing the number and capacity of prisons, and mandatory minimum sentences have shown to be ineffective in numerous jurisdictions around the world. However, according to Justice Minister Rob Nicholson's spokesperson, the "Tories don't use these statistics as an excuse not to get tough on criminals."

Non-partisanship non-existent at Commons ethics committee ‘witch hunt’

OTTAWA — To Conservatives, ethics committee hearings scheduled for this week will give an important look into alleged abuses of Canada’s open-records laws at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

But to Opposition New Democrats, the committee’s study of the CBC is “a farce ... a witch hunt” intent on a partisan pursuit of the Tories’ perceived enemies.

Either way, any illusions that the spirit of non-partisanship would prevail under a Conservative majority government are quickly dashed whenever the House of Commons Access to Information and Ethics committee sits.

“ETHI,” as it is known in Parliament Hill shorthand, has quickly become the most entertaining — if not the least productive — show in Parliament, with often rancorous sniping between ranking Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro and senior NDP MP Charlie Angus.

This week, the committee continues its study of the CBC’s handling of access to information requests at a time when the corporation’s annual parliamentary appropriation of $1.1 billion is in the crosshairs of across-the-board government cuts.