From today’s Globe And Mail:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper took a page out of tough U.S. justice legislation yesterday by announcing that his government will introduce a three-strikes law to force repeat violent and sexual offenders to justify why they should not be locked away indefinitely.
Ah, so this is what Harper meant by “get tough on crime.” Let’s take a look at what this would mean.
First, it’s a strike against that whole “innocent until proven guilty” thing we like to value. The accused would be responsible for proving that they’re not a danger to society, instead of leaving that responsibility with the crown to prove that they are. Call me old-fashioned, but I like the presumption of innocence. (Just so everyone knows what a radical I am, I’m also a fan of habeas corpus.)
Some of you may not be convinced that that’s a big problem, since we are talking about third-time offenders of violent and sexual crimes. Fine. So then, this plan would at least reduce crime, right?
Wrong. From the same article:
[The announcement] was resoundingly panned by justice experts who say similar measures south of the border have proved ineffective in reducing crime…The California law caused an increase in the state prison population of 17.7 per cent between 1993 and 2002 while the crime rate dropped more slowly than that of other states, such as New York, where there was no three-strikes law.
Oh, ok. So we’ll have a bigger prison population, more crime than we would otherwise, and fewer liberties.
Also, according to both Harper and my rudimentary understanding of the fact that jails cost money, it’ll cost more.
One other quote from the article really struck me, “Mr. Harper said his government is answering a call from Canadians who believe the country is not as safe as it once was.” The key word there, of course, is believe, since crime is actually on the decline in Canada.
There was a telling moment in a recent Toronto municipal campaign town hall broadcast on CBC, when a reporter asked the council candidates to explain why they thought Canadians felt less safe, when in fact they were more safe. The candidates’ answers were regrettably predictable; they didn’t even understand the question. They just went on and on about how we have to get tough on crime, whatever that means, as politicians tend to do.
I think I’ve figured out where we got the idea that we shouldn’t feel safe. And I think I know who benefits.