Conservative Political Theatre
In the last few months, Prime Minister Harper and his Conservative government have been taking hits with their policies. Afghanistan is still perhaps one of the most divisive issues, with 59% of Canadians disagreeing with his policy. The Softwood Deal can be best described as a sell-out. Earlier this week, the much touted "Green Plan" was released not to applause but to more criticism.
What better time then, to jump on the trusty Conservative standby issue of "Law and Order" to draw our attention away from these other, far more important issues. The government is proposing a shocking "Reverse Onus" for dangerous offenders. In otherwords, after a third conviction of any "sexual assault" or "violent" crime, an offender must now prove they are not a dangerous offender as designated by the Criminal Code. Being designated a dangerous offender means that a person is imprisoned indefinitely.
Clearly neither the Prime Minister nor Vic Toews, the Justice Minister have read or understand the Charter of Rights. The Supreme Court ruled in 1986 in R v Oakes that reverse onus clauses in criminal law were unconstitutional. The only way for this to be legal, would be for the Federal government to do some thing that it has never done - invoke the Section 33 "notwithstanding" clause or for a Section 1 reasonable limit challenge.
Surely, I can hear you all saying, with all the crime we are facing this could certainly be reasonable?
Of course the problem is we aren't facing a crime problem, despite what the Conservatives want you to believe. According to the latest from Stats Canada, the crime rate in Canada dropped 5% last year.
While some violent crime was up from the year before - sometimes seemingly significantly - there is less crime now than 10, 20 even 30 years ago. For instance, while the rate of murder was 4% higher than last year, it is only 2% higher than 10 years ago, after a 30 year low in 2003. Attempted murders are up 14%, but are still 20% lower than 10 years ago. Assaults and Sexual assaults are down or unchanged and are down 8% and 25% repsectively from 10 years ago. Overall violent crime remains unchanged from last year and is still 7 % lower than 10 years ago.
"The national crime rate has been relatively stable since 1999, with last year's 5% decrease offsetting a 6% hike in 2003. The crime rate declined during the 1990s, after rising throughout most of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s."
In other words, over the long term, crime, including violent crime, is falling, even without these new "reverse onus" clauses. The increase in the murder rate can be attributed to 10 extra murders in the cities of Edmonton, Toronto and Regina can account for ALL of the 34 increase in murders in Canada. There is no need for a draconian reverse onus to protect us from crime.
The effect of this "reverse onus" clause, apart from the fact that is is not needed and violates the Charter, will be cost. If this passes, there will be a sudden increase in incarcerated offendeers. Our prison costs will explode. And yet as studies into mandatory minimums have shown, increased rates of incaceration have no effect on the crime rate (which is already dropping, remember?) nor do they prevent recidivism among offenders. An increase in incarcerated offenders, with no hope of parole or release, will have nothing to loose, making life far more dangerous for prison guards and other, non-violent offenders. Add to this the almost certain court battles and even more certain loss in the Supreme Court, which will overturn this kind of law, making this a frightful waste of government time and taxpayer's money. A strange stance for a government that says it is about "value for money."
The bottom line is that this reverse onus is an unneeded, unconstitutional law, meant solely to implement a policy based on ideology rather than fact. It is a crass attempt to pander to the social conservative base, rather than to seek real solutions to real problems facing Canada and Canadians.
The Opposition should most definitely NOT "get onside" with this rights-trampling nonsense. They should soundly defeat any attempt by this government to pass such a law.