Finding Virtue in a Culture of Vengeance the Harper Approach to Crime

By Patterson, James; Ashley, Titterton | Canadian Dimension, September-October 2011 | Go to article overview

Finding Virtue in a Culture of Vengeance the Harper Approach to Crime


Patterson, James, Ashley, Titterton, Canadian Dimension


IN THE COMING MONTHS, the now-majority Conservative government will make good on their campaign promises to move forward a series of "tough-on-crime" bills that fell to the floor prior to the dissolution of Parliament this past March. While the final bill has yet to be introduced, the previous bills which are almost certain to be included will increase police powers, weaken privacy and civil liberties protections, "toughen" youth criminal justice policies, restrict or eliminate conditional sentencing, and legislate more mandatory minimum sentences, further decreasing judicial discretion. In short, it will focus on punishment and put more people in prison for longer periods of time. Prison populations are estimated to increase by thousands over the next few years. Such a shift in policy might very well be dangerous in itself and Canadians can look south of the border for evidence of where a highly punitive, "war on crime" style criminal justice system can lead.

Easy Targets: The making of vengeance culture

Since 2006, the Harper government has skipped few beats on its political war drum of justice. From the release of Karla Homolka and the pardon of convicted sexual offender Graham James to the removal of two-for-one remand credits, to rhetoric about liberal judges and the closure of prison rehabilitative farms at federal institutions,--Conservatives elicit moral condemnation at a justice system perceived to be soft on offenders. With overflowing confidence they bait progressives with comments like "hug-a-thug," some openly questioning nearly two decades of statistics suggesting crime rates are in decline.

What the punishment-driven crime overhaul really represents is the implementation of a policy agenda very much grounded in the ideology of the Conservative party and emotionally-driven sensationalism. The image of the immoral "dangerous offender" juxtaposed with a Conservative moral agenda has served neo-cons well--so well they are willing to ante up an estimated $5 billion annual increase to justice spending by 2015-2016.

Behind closed doors: The reality of the Canadian Klink

On top of these costs are the many people remanded to provincial facilities before they are even convicted and sentenced, impacting internal security, programming and costs at provincial facilities. Offenders in remand, representing almost 57% of all inmates in Canada, often receive little prison programming and contribute to an increased caustic security environment, prompting potential violence and suicide watches in facilities where they are housed.

Cost saving strategies in some prisons include housing opposing gang members in the same blocks so prisoners mitigate their own behavior, lessening the need for more guards while constantly putting the offender's safety in a compromised position. It is well known that prison time is criminogenic, rather than a moral deterrent. Any time spent in remand drastically increases the chances of re-offending, even if a custodial sentence is not given in the end. By removing two-for-one credits Harper is exposing youth and the young to violent crime culture when most are committing non-violent crimes. In Manitoba, the car-theft capital of the country, it is a well-known fact that practice was incubated in one of its youth facilities--a decade later it is only now being controlled through proactive means.

No Doctor in the Big House

The most significant effects of these policies will be on those disadvantaged, and low-income minority communities whose members are the most likely to find themselves in circumstances that lead to criminal activities. …

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