HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Bill Will Put Idiocy Into Law
Pubdate: Wed, 20 May 2009
Source: North Shore News (CN BC)
Contact:  2009 North Shore News
Author: Jerry Paradis
Bookmark: (Mandatory Minimum Sentencing)


Six people trekked to Ottawa a couple of weeks ago to testify before 
Parliament's Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, which is 
considering something called Bill C-15.

If that bill becomes law, it will establish mandatory minimum 
sentences for certain drug offences. I know, I know. We've been there 
before. But, as Dan Gardner of the Ottawa Citizen has said, if you 
want me to stop grinding crime and drug issues to dust you have to 
ask your elected representatives to stop acting stupid. That's a 
strong word, but it's long past time to be genteel and respectful.

On every aspect of crime and penal policy, this government is 
programmed for idiocy. Evidence is irrelevant. If it's a step in the 
right ideological direction, one bound to resonate with that segment 
of the population that fears for its safety at every turn, it's the 
policy to follow.

That the fearful have been conditioned by those same politicians to 
be that way, against all available evidence, makes no difference. 
Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, testifying before the Committee, was 
asked what evidence he had that mandatory minimums would have any 
impact on drug trafficking. He said: "We believe that that's what 
Canadians want." Most Canadians probably want free maple syrup, a 
Stanley Cup champ or a couple of weeks in the Caribbean in February. 
I'm all for laws mandating those. So much for evidence.

The six witnesses came from New York, Toronto, Ottawa, Vancouver and 
Victoria. They all delivered, from varying viewpoints, the same 
evidence-based message: That mandatory minimums don't deter crime -- 
especially when applied to drug offences; that they will inevitably 
capture the (usually addicted) street seller or his immediate 
supplier, leaving the big fish to swim away smiling; that they are a 
political public relations sleight-of-hand designed to show toughness 
on crime; and that they were popular for a while in the United 
States, where they failed to produce any results but had many 
unforeseen negative consequences and where everyone is now scrambling 
to abandon them.

What was interesting about the committee was the entrenched posture 
of all members. The hearings seem to be as much a show as a serious 
gathering of information -- an opportunity to consult but, in the 
process, to get their own views on the record.

The members from the Reform/Alliance -- this government bears as much 
resemblance to the historical Conservatives of Canadian politics as 
the equally abysmal Bush gang did to the Republican Party -- were, as 
expected, not very receptive to the message being delivered.

One tried a personal attack on one witness, which backfired, to the 
satisfaction of the witnesses and to the committee member's embarrassment.

The Bloc Quebecois is adamantly opposed to the bill. Its members were 
full of praise for the witnesses and lobbed easy questions that 
invited expansion on what had already been said about the uselessness 
and potential harm of the bill.

Most interesting were the Liberals on the committee, who have 
apparently decided that they will support the bill so they can appear 
to be as tough on crime as the calculating cynics across the aisle. 
They know all of the downsides of mandatory minimums; but they plan 
to salve their collective conscience by concentrating on the final 
section of the bill, which says that, if someone looking at a minimum 
of one to three years in jail successfully completes a program 
through a drug treatment court, the court doesn't have to impose the 
minimum. Somehow, for the Liberals, that makes the rest of this 
draconian law OK.

Following one presentation dealing with the potential negative 
impacts of the bill on the courts -- like ceding the sentencing 
function to prosecutors (who will decide what sentence to impose when 
they decide what charge to lay), or the certain demise of guilty 
pleas, the grease that keeps criminal courts running everywhere -- 
Dominic LeBlanc, he who would be leader, delivered a statement about 
having recently visited Vancouver and spent time with the Chief Judge 
of the Provincial Court, who was proud of the Vancouver Drug 
Treatment and Community courts (our own Ujjal Dosanjh, also on the 
Committee, was strangely silent). LeBlanc then asked the witness what 
he thought of drug treatment courts. Mistakenly associating them with 
the old drug courts that were functioning when he retired, the 
witness replied that they were necessarily invented by the judiciary 
to solve a caseload problem, the clogging of some courts by the 
recidivism of drug addicts, and had no impact on drug abuse. He was wrong.

The Drug Treatment Court in Vancouver is more than that and deserves 
better. Bill C-15 will inevitably lead to a surge in the numbers 
opting for treatment rather than serving a one-or two-year minimum.

The result will be overload. A viable avenue of help to some addicts 
will be swamped into uselessness. More next time.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom