This is an excellent description of the manner in which fear of crime can be used to sell right wing crime bills by the dozen! The NDP is not likely to mount much of a battle against the bills since it actually agrees with them for the most part I should think. It does not want to seem soft on crime, although I guess it is willing
to be a bit "soft on terrorism" and will oppose the renewed anti-terror legislation or at least parts of it.
The article also shows the opportunity costs of the overemphasis on crime. Other even more pressing issues are ignored. For example our decaying infrastructure. Crime is a sexier issue for the most part. It needs an overpass to collapse to even bring decaying infrastrcture to our attention.
If being tough on crime and incarceration were the cure for crime the US should have the least crime of all developed countries but that is not so. It has by far the highest incaraceration rate. Crime has numerous causes and many are such that punishment may not have all that much effect on rates.
What's wrong with the new crime bill?
Crime is a winning platform. Just ask Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Margaret Thatcher, John Major, Brian Mulroney and Mike Harris.
>by Dawn Moore
October 22, 2007
Nobody likes crime. Define crime through mayhem’s three ill begotten children – guns, gangs and drugs – add in a hefty dose of terrorist threats, and you’ve got the electoral Holy Grail. Crime is a hot button issue that will galvanize a nation through the sheer power of emotional response.
We don’t have to read more than one horrifying account of a kid felled by stray bullets to feel that visceral, hot churning in the gut that makes us all want to jump up and yell “charge” when the Harper government proposes omnibus amendments to “tackle crime.” After all, there’s not a single voter in this country who doesn’t want the crime problem solved, who doesn’t want her kids to be safe in their schools and her airplane to be safe from hijackers.
So it comes as no surprise that the Harper government is leading with their “tough on crime” agenda. Nor is it much of a jaw dropper that the other parties, far from speaking out against Harper’s plans (and thus offering the opposition they are meant to offer as, well, members of the opposition), are now falling all over themselves to show they hate crime even more than the Tories do and they also want to tackle the ne’r-do-wells lurking in the shadows of our communities, waiting to pounce on the next innocent, law abiding citizen who happens by.
How can you be against being against crime? It is like George Bush said, “If you’re not with us, you’re with the terrorists.” Well in Canada it seems that if you’re not with Harper, you’re with the criminals.
The problem is that beyond this false framing of the issue (crime: for or against), there really is no problem in Canada. Well, that’s not quite accurate. There are lots of problems in Canada: the environment, poverty, decaying infrastructure, and the question of involvement in Afghanistan all come to mind.
As a criminologist, however, (and I say this knowing full well it’s not a great career move) crime is nowhere near the top of my list of national issues to worry about. The crime rates in Canada haven’t been this low in decades. We are seeing a decline in just about every category of crime including the most serious.
There are a few pockets where crime is on the rise. The most concerning here is in the area of domestic violence. The number of women killed by abusive partners rises almost every year. Ironically, this is the same area of criminal law where so-called “get tough” policies like mandatory charging were implemented in the 1990s. So much for the theory that getting tough on crime makes us safer.
So what does happen when we get tough on crime?
Two things. First, Harper gets re-elected. Crime, as I said, is a winning platform. Just ask Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Margaret Thatcher, John Major, Brian Mulroney and Mike Harris. It’s also a great distraction from tougher issues facing a government, like unpopular wars, impending environmental collapse, economic turmoil or questionable governing practices. Just ask Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Mike Harris…you get the picture.
The worry here is that the government gets elected because it promises to solve problems that don’t actually exist while ignoring some of the most pressing issues of the day. The government is promising to reveal and get rid of an elephant that was never in the room to begin with. When they get rid of the elephant that was never really there (or actually turned out to be a mouse), they gain credibility and everyone sees them as heroes. That’s a pretty sweet deal for the government.
Second, “getting tough on crime” can actually make things worse. We need only look at our friends to the south to understand that there is every reason to believe that crime gets worse when things get tough. The U.S. has some of the strictest criminal laws in the global north yet they also boast rates of violent crime two to three times higher than in Canada.
Spend five minutes talking to anyone who actually works with people who have committed crimes and they will tell you that deterrence doesn’t work, and that a strong social fabric does. People stop committing crimes not because they are afraid of tough law enforcement, but because they are able to access the basics of life (housing, employment, education), they have support in dealing with the violence and marginalization they have experienced in their own lives, they have access to good health care including mental health care, they have places to go to escape violence and they have healthy communities that give them opportunities to develop their own skills and interests.
Sound like a bunch of bleeding heart liberal clap trap about coddling criminals? Sure, if you want to see it that way. But in the end the important thing is what’s really in the best interest of the public. Is the public best served by new legislation designed to buy votes, at a cost of billions of dollars to solve a problem that doesn’t really exist, and which in fact will quite probably exacerbate the crime problem? Or, would the public be better served by taking that same amount of money and putting it into the kinds of services that good research and years of knowledge and experience actually tell us make a difference in crime rates with the probable outcome of accelerating the current decline in criminal behavior?
I’d like to say that we all, as voters, could be the judge of this but, thanks to the complicity of all the other federal parties, it looks like this is one of those pieces of legislation that will pass without any kind of public debate or even consultation.
A crime problem? Seems to me that the real elephant in the room here is that we are watching democratic processes wash away along with the real issues facing this country, as we all let ourselves be thoroughly distracted by the specter of crime.
Dawn Moore is a Professor in the Department of Law at Carleton University. Her book Criminal Artefacts: Governing Drugs and Users is published with UBC Press. Moore works in the areas of drug control, human rights and women and the law.