December 2011-The Conservative government recently passed Bill C-10 an Omnibus Crime Bill ironically titled "Safe Streets and Communities Act." This crime bill is an amalgamation of ten previous crime bills that the Conservative Government failed to enact prior to the last election. The theme of all these various bills is to keep people in jail to make it easier to put people in jail and keep them in jail for longer periods of time. The act creates a number of new mandatory minimum offenses in respect to drugs and also restricts one's ability after sentencing to be paroled or pardoned. The premise behind this act is that it is necessary to make our streets safer and protect our citizens from the increase in crime rate that we are apparently experiencing.
This raises the obvious question, are crime rates increasing? It may be in the Conservatives political interest to foster a climate of fear around violent crime and other crimes but the reality is the complete opposite. Crime rates in Canada have been declining not because of any increase in punishment for crimes committed but as a result of demographics in our country. The reality is that most crimes are committed by young men and our population is growing older and having fewer children. The crime rate has fallen a total of fifteen percent between 1998 and 2007. Serious crime rate in the same time period has fallen a total of twenty-one percent. In 2008 there were 77,000 fewer crimes than in 2007 including fewer violent crimes. The reality is our communities are safer now than they have been in decades. Why then does the Conservative government foster a climate of fear and want to push through bills that will simply increase our prison population and cost the tax payers billions of dollars. Sadly the answer to that question is because it gets them elected.
Today we live in an age of multi media and instant twenty four hour news. When a crime occurs in British Columbia you can literally hear about it twenty minutes later in PEI. The media tends to focus on these crimes and it becomes the content of the news and the discussions regarding the news. This leads the public to a false perception that crime is everywhere, when actual statistics show crime has dropped significantly.
The Harper Government's strategy of locking up people for longer and longer periods of time simply does not work; this experiment was tried in the U.S. for the last thirty years and it has been an unmitigated disaster. Ironically even Conservatives in Texas have informed the Harper Government that this policy does not work and the Texas legislature is now attempting to make changes to reduce the incarceration level (one of the highest in the world) rather than increase it, which is the direction our government wishes to follow.
Unfortunately, the Conservative's view is tough on crime equates to putting people behind bars. What we need is a government that is smart on crime and spends its dollars on measures that will prevent crime and assist the young people who are most likely to commit those crimes, rather than simply building more prisons and creating more mandatory minimum sentences.