Even though crime rates are going down and Manitoba sentencing rates are far above the national average the Conservatives are stressing justice reform and the NDP wants to counter its image of being "soft on crime". The Federal Conservatives also play the crime card to the hilt to mix metaphors.
Critics slam McFadyen's plan for justice reform
Wed May 2 2007
By Kevin Rollason
TORY Leader Hugh McFadyen's plans to overhaul the province's justice system if his party wins the May 22 election were met with disdain Tuesday by criminal lawyers, academics and social-welfare advocates.
Evan Roitenberg, president of the Manitoba Trial Lawyers Association, said the justice system doesn't need to be overhauled -- it just needs more money so it can run more efficiently.
And he cautioned that when politicians try to politicize the process for political gain by saying they want to get convictions instead of prosecuting cases, "we have a problem."
Instead, Roitenberg said, more courtrooms and more funding to legal aid are needed.
On Monday, the Tories promised to spend an extra $40 million on the province's justice system. The money would pay for 350 more police officers and non-uniformed "crimefighters."
McFadyen also plans to split the Manitoba Justice department into two entities: one in charge of criminal prosecutions and the other, called the public safety department, to oversee policing and corrections. It would also hold legislative committee hearings for provincial judicial appointments to make judges more accountable. As well, McFadyen said, police would also be given a clear role in choosing judges.
David Deutscher, a law professor at the University of Manitoba, said he disagrees with changing the way judges are vetted before being appointed. Currently, a committee made up of judges, representatives of legal associations and community members compile a short list of judicial candidates for the government to choose from.
"We in Manitoba have a pretty good system of choosing judges," Deutscher said.
Steven Kohm, an assistant professor at the University of Winnipeg's criminal justice studies program, said McFadyen's promises are simply "pure electioneering.
"He talks about hiring more police, but you can double and quadruple the amount of police patrols, but police patrols do little to reduce crime," Kohm said. "I don't see a lot of substance to what he's offering other than using shocking strategies."
Doug Skoog, a retired professor in the same program, said McFadyen is misleading the public about crime in Manitoba.
"The average length of sentences here is two-and-a-half times the national average," Skoog said. "We have as many police per capita as any of the major cities and crime is going down."
Sid Frankel, vice-president of the board of the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg, said if politicians really want to be serious about reducing crime, they need to pump money into social programs.
"If there were better housing, better economic opportunities and more programs for youth that would make a real difference," Frankel said. email@example.com