Tuesday, November 15, 2011

10 Reasons to Oppose C10 - A Critique

The article included below, “10 reasons to oppose Bill C10” has good intentions but stops short on some issues, and is mis-informative on others.  Though we should all welcome and cheer most any support in opposing Bill C10, I also think we should think critically and welcome and cheer each other for those efforts.

Yes it is true as the article's authors states, that the Canadian Bar Association representing 37000 wrote a collective letter of opposition to the Harper government. But so did dozens of others including another collective letter, this time of human rights organizations from all across Canada including the Civil Liberties Association, and the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network. The Urban Health Research Initiative also organized a petition letter with over 550 signatures from healthcare workers.

Letters however were not the only form of address taken. Other organizations arranged actions which included developing web sites and blogs, building community coalitions, hosting discussion panels, forums, and public speaks, as well as designing letter and petition campaigns. Articles have been written, letters to MP's sent out, and conversations with friends, neighbours, and colleagues have taken place individually by 10's of thousands of Canadians since 2007 when the current law and order agenda was first introduced.

For those who wish to be involved there are current campaigns including a petition at AVAZZ.org (www.avaaz.org) asking Premiers to oppose Bill C10 on the basis of dollar cost. Another petition at Lead Now (leadnow.ca/keep-canada-safe) asks for a more radical re-thinking of the law and order approach to justice period. Lead Now requests that government officials “establish an independent commission of diverse citizens and experts to create a 21st century Canadian justice plan.” Lead now is also in the process of building a national campaign on this issue for those wishing to do more than write their MP's.

Most recently several Premiers have stated publicly that they will not be responsible for footing the dollar cost of this Bill. This is wonderful new but has 2 failings I can see. First, in attacking only the dollar costs associated with Bill C10 we fail to acknowledge that the greatest consequence will be the human cost. (although both human and dollar costs are intertwined and one failure increases failings in the other) Secondly, what do our Premiers intend to do if Ottawa steps up and provides funding? Will they simply continue to disregard all of the more important reasons for not supporting this Bill?

The author, Trinda L. Ernst begins in point one with a call to increase use of and funding for preventative measures to community harm – that which we refer to as crime. However she leaves out some of the most crucial and impactful measures known to both prevent community harm and increase public safety. Measures such as affordable housing and childcare, quality education, meaningful, well paid work, and equitable access to healthcare must be the focus of any “crime” prevention strategy where human rights, and community safety are the prime considerations.

Points 2, 3, and 4 discuss the rush with which the conservatives are pushing Bill C10 through parliament, the subsequent lack of review, and the methods with which they are promoting this legislation. In addition to stating that these processes are problematic we need to talk about why its a problem, who stands to benefit from this approach, and how.

The conservatives have made it known time and again that they care not for proven best practices, nor the evidence, research and statistics backing those approaches. What they care about are the demands and ideology of their core political base. People who tend to be mainly white, and middle class. People who are a long way from the experiences of oppression that many of us are subjected to which have often lead to our continued impoverishment and criminalisation. Not only do most of the conservatives political base not understand the day to day realities of what it means to be criminalised but they are also lied to and provided misinformation from their leaders in regards to the connecting issues of poverty and trauma. As Trinda states, those who support increasing criminalisation do so without fact based information.

Who benefits from this approach? The status quo, and those who represent them. By keeping mostly working class people under foot and not only infringing on civil rights as evidenced by the many recent attacks on labour unions and protestors, but by also threatening imprisonment more often and for longer periods of time, people are made fearful, and kept silent. These tactics combined allow the upper classes to maintain ownership, high profits and unfair percentages of our national resources, all off the backs of the low waged poor.

Point 5 deals with our youth. One important point left out here is that Canada leads the world in our rates of incarcerating young people. This trend will likely not only continue but be made worse under the conservatives who are once again pandering to ideology. That is that our youth have become dangerous and are out of control, that they need to be locked up. In fact just the opposite is true. “Crime” rates among young people are like most rates of “crime” in Canada, on the decline.
Trinda makes the point that imprisonment is a forerunner to later law breaking, that community based options are less likely to see continued lawbreaking behaviour. The piece she leaves out is that all people, not just youth are known to fare better with regards to increased stability, and decreased lawbreaking in community based programs as opposed to imprisonment.

In point 6 Trinda significantly points out that despite the title the conservatives have given to the portion of the act dealing with house arrest, (Ending House Arrest for Serious and Violent Criminals Act) it does not merely target acts of violence. In fact most people who are sentenced to conditional sentences or house arrest are non violent, property law breakers. So who benefits from this mis-information and how? Once again the owning classes are seeing their property and their profits protected as a priority in legislation which despite conservative claims, has nothing to do with ending violence in our communities.

Trinda's comments in the next point about prison creating predators were particularly annoying to me. People subject to ongoing degradation and humiliation at the hands of others for extended periods of time can become less socially able to live and work among us on a number of levels. But I would argue that someone who was not a predator going into prison, will still not be one when they come out. Moving on to the point behind Trinda's line of reasoning; disregard for prisoners human rights is a serious and prolific issue even with fairly strong law in place to protect them. Prison walls have the effect of blocking all public scrutiny, it is difficult to monitor what really goes on behind their walls even in the best of circumstances. The “Parole and Conditional Release Act” which is the Canadian legislation that deals with prisoner treatment states that prisoners maintain all rights afforded every Canadian except those necessairly restricted by withdrawal of individual liberty.

The conservatives want to see these rights transformed into privileges that have to be earned. This means for instance that freedom to protest conditions could be made illegal and subject to sanction. Protesting illegal treatment of one self by guards is already extremely difficult and indeed dangerous for those inside. Now with law on their side, stories of rape, assault and other abuses could be legally silenced.

I agree with Trinda in that the system with regards to prison overcrowding is at the breaking point right now. I would argue that this overcrowding fits into the effects of degrading and humiliating conditions I alluded to above. There are few if any quiet moments in prison, and no privacy at all, ever. These conditions can have the effect of causing anxiety and depression, as well as heightening survival instincts (fight or flight mechanisms) which in turn can increase incidents of aggression which become more difficult to turn off or undue as time goes on.

I don't agree that the police need more money to do their jobs. They are already some of the highest paid cops on the planet with access to some of the most up to date technology and resources available. Policing money would be better spent in alternative, grassroots, prevention and treatment initiatives.
In point 9 Trinda talks about victimizing the most vulnerable, a top issue of any law and order based agenda. But Trinda gets a little confabulated here.

The truth is that aboriginal folks are often moved far from their homes in order to be imprisoned. This is true of all women imprisoned in Canada as well, even after the building of 5 “regional centres” for women. The truth is that aboriginal peoples are vastly over represented throughout the criminal legal system. What we also need to know is that women are the fasted growing segment of the prison population and that aboriginal women are most impacted by this trend. Its also important to note that women account for 80% of all people victimized in Canada. In prison populations those statistics rise, with 85% of all women noted as survivors of sexual or physical assault. That number increases still more to 95% when speaking of aboriginal women. Other populations known to be vulnerable to criminalisation and imprisonment are the poor, people of colour, youth, people living with mental health issues, trans men and women, and those who use drugs. The methods by which they are criminalised almost always relate in some way to extended periods of poverty.

And finally the financial cost of this travesty called Bill C10? No one knows, and not enough people seem to care. What they are doing is not only irresponsible and disrespectful of the Canadian people, this kind of devil may care spending is not particularly conservative.... or is it?

10 reasons to oppose Bill C-10

Published On Mon Nov 14 2011
Under Bill C-10, prison officials will have more latitude to disregard prisoners’ human rights, bypassing the least restrictive means to enforce discipline. This means inmates are more likely to re-enter society as predators hardened by their prison experience.
Under Bill C-10, prison officials will have more latitude to disregard prisoners’ human rights, bypassing the least restrictive means to enforce discipline. This means inmates are more likely to re-enter society as predators hardened by their prison experience.
Chris So/Toronto Star
Trinda L. Ernst
Bill C-10 is titled The Safe Streets and Communities Act — an ironic name, considering that Canada already has some of the safest streets and communities in the world and a declining crime rate. This bill will do nothing to improve that state of affairs but, through its overreach and overreaction to imaginary problems, Bill C-10 could easily make it worse. It could eventually create the very problems it’s supposed to solve.
Bill C-10 will require new prisons; mandate incarceration for minor, non-violent offenses; justify poor treatment of inmates and make their reintegration into society more difficult. Texas and California, among other jurisdictions, have already started down this road before changing course, realizing it cost too much and made their justice system worse. Canada is poised to repeat their mistake.
The Canadian Bar Association, representing over 37,000 lawyers across the country, has identified 10 reasons why the passage of Bill C-10 will be a mistake and a setback for Canada:
1. Ignoring reality. Decades of research and experience have shown what actually reduces crime: (a) addressing child poverty, (b) providing services for the mentally ill and those afflicted with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, (c) diverting young offenders from the adult justice system, and (d) rehabilitating prisoners, and helping them to reintegrate into society. Bill C-10 ignores these proven facts.
2. Rush job. Instead of receiving a thorough review, Bill C-10 is being rushed through Parliament purely to meet the “100-day passage” promise from the last election. Expert witnesses attempting to comment on more than 150 pages of legislation in committee hearings are cut off mid-sentence after just five minutes.
3. Spin triumphs over substance. The federal government has chosen to take a “marketing” approach to Bill C-10, rather than explaining the facts to Canadians. This campaign misrepresents the bill’s actual content and ensures that its public support is based heavily on inaccuracies.
4. No proper inspection. Contrary to government claims, some parts of Bill C-10 have received no previous study by parliamentary committee. Other sections have been studied before and were changed — but, in Bill C-10, they’re back in their original form.
5. Wasted youth. More young Canadians will spend months in custodial centres before trial, thanks to Bill C-10. Experience has shown that at-risk youth learn or reinforce criminal behaviour in custodial centres; only when diverted to community options are they more likely to be reformed.
6. Punishments eclipse the crime. The slogan for one proposal was Ending House Arrest for Serious and Violent Criminals Act, but Bill C-10 will actually also eliminate conditional sentences for minor and property offenders and instead send those people to jail. Is roughly $100,000 per year to incarcerate someone unnecessarily a good use of taxpayers’ money?
7. Training predators. Bill C-10 would force judges to incarcerate people whose offenses and circumstances clearly do not warrant time in custody. Prison officials will have more latitude to disregard prisoners’ human rights, bypassing the least restrictive means to discipline and control inmates. Almost every inmate will re-enter society someday. Do we want them to come out as neighbours, or as predators hardened by their prison experience?
8. Justice system overload. Longer and harsher sentences will increase the strains on a justice system already at the breaking point. Courts and Crown prosecutors’ offices are overwhelmed as is, legal aid plans are at the breaking point, and police forces don’t have the resources to do their jobs properly. Bill C-10 addresses none of these problems and will make them much worse.
9. Victimizing the most vulnerable. With mandatory minimums replacing conditional sentences, people in remote, rural and northern communities will be shipped far from their families to serve time. Canada’s aboriginal people already represent up to 80 per cent of inmates in institutions in the Prairies, a national embarrassment that Bill C-10 will make worse.
10. How much money? With no reliable price tag for its recommendations, there is no way to responsibly decide the bill’s financial implications. What will Canadians sacrifice to pay for these initiatives? Will they be worth the cost?
Canadians deserve accurate information about Bill C-10, its costs and its effects. This bill will change our country’s entire approach to crime at every stage of the justice system. It represents a huge step backwards; rather than prioritizing public safety, it emphasizes retribution above all else. It’s an approach that will make us less safe, less secure, and ultimately, less Canadian.
Trinda L. Ernst is president of the Canadian Bar Association.

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