Yesterday Justin Trudeau spoke on the new legislation that the Conservatives have proposed, the controversial Bill C-51. He caused quite a stir. A stir that, in my opinion, was much anticipated. This bill, which has received virtually unanimous criticism from experts in law, has been slowly boiling over in this, an all important election year. The injection of partisan politics in the judiciary is as dangerous as it is ill-advised. Unfortunately, it is also not unprecedented - particularly from Harper.
Harper has produced a bill that is designed to make it much more difficult to rehabilitate Canadians who have offended. Specifically, he is attacking the parole board with a campaign called "Life is Life", in which he suggests that someone charged with a life sentence should never have the opportunity leave prison. The claim has been repeated that violent offenders are getting out and that this deeply endangers our society. Much like the government's discourse on terrorism, this is all about building fear.
Our current judicial system is, like all systems, imperfect. We have high rates of incarceration for First Nations. We have a systemic problem with maintaining our federal penal infrastructure. There have been numerous cases where prison guards have not intervened in suicides. Among these problems is the rare person who comes out of prison for a murder charge who reoffends. While non-violent crime recidivism rates are generally about 40 per cent, those who are on parole after a murder sentence reoffend at one per cent. That means that most who go through the penal system are capable of following their conditions of parole and reintegrating into society.
Fundamentally, that is the point of prison. Or so I thought. There are broadly two theories on the purpose of correctional facilities.
The first posits that prison should be to rehabilitate those who have erred. This means that prisons need to be connected to the world. There needs to be a cultural exchange between those on the inside and wider society. It also includes having rewards for personal development and good behaviour.
Another way of looking at prisons is that they are designed to isolate segments of the population from society. As mentioned before, Canada has a problem where we hold onto racial segregation by formalising it through prisons. The same is true of black people in the United States. The goal here is to criminalise a segment of the population and make it exceptionally difficult for them to integrate or reintegrate, even if their crimes were non-violent (such as with drugs or theft).
If we look at both models, we see a significant ideological divide - one where we see prison as a vehicle to aid those who are in need, another serving to propagate isolation. In the case of Canadian political discourse, there should be no question where our government stands. This newest bill is just part of a long stream of initiatives designed to target populations and perpetuate their stay in Canadian prisons. The Canadians have championed their tough on crime stance, even when it is consistently shown that tough on crime doesn't lead to more peaceful societies. And it has to be asked: what is the impact on the incarcerated? Why should someone who has committed a violent crime be deprived of the opportunity to better himself or herself?
We should all be concerned that our government is introducing this bill in order to have wider sweeping powers to prosecute various groups, not the least of which including "terrorists". Harper wants to increase the powers of both the RCMP and CSIS without adding greater oversight. Moreover, he wants to implicate the Ministry of Public Safety in the judiciary by having them involved in parole decisions. These changes should worry Canadians deeply.
I don't trust the Conservatives with our judicial system and we do not need further steps toward a police state. Hopefully Canadians will resist this bill and join in with experts in law and society in decrying this thinly veiled attack on our freedoms. I take solace in knowing that, ultimately, the liklihood of this legislation going anywhere is minimal. I'm looking foward to the October election.