For better or worse, our society has gone through great lengths to convince itself that we’ve entered a new age of prosperity and civilization. Once we’ve filled our lives with meaningless consumer goods and nonsensical dogmas, our silly-putty brains are too inebriated with the toxic filth of post-modernity to understand that the underlying desires, qualms and escapes we now so frivolously indulge or fearfully evade, have always been an essential aspect of humanity. No matter how many codices or moral revelations mankind believes it has, when given a handful of rocks and someone to fling them at, the masses cannot resist the urge to unleash their precarious load. All humans have done this. All of men have scapegoated, deceived and devoured one another for little more than the primitive pleasure of excited existence, but rarely have such practices become government policy. However, given the fact that the so many other ridiculous policies have been adopted by the current regime in Ottawa, if anyone could make savagery the law, it would be our magnanimous, Pinocchio-nosed mystic, Stephen Harper.
Although as a pundit, I may have a flair for the melodramatic, our esteemed government’s “reimagination” of criminal justice as being Tough on Crime and victim’s rights based is a form of barbaric ignorance pandering that’s impossible to overstate. As with many of the Conservative’s key ideals, victim based justice appears excellent on paper but cannot withstand the scrutiny of logic nor of professional advisement. However, given that blue voters have never been fans of logic or professional advisement in the first place, it’s hardly surprising that just dubious legislation has once again been railroaded past the obstacles of democracy intentionally erected to put a stop to nonsense such as this. Law has nothing to do with the victims and never has. The purpose of law and order is to prevent victims from being made, not to be ruled by those it fails. As callous and hurtful as my words might seem, after my conversations with lawyers from both sides of the bench, it has become painfully obvious that although grieving widows and weeping witnesses make for excellent television, they are not prime ingredients for good law. As much as crime and violence affects us as human beings emotionally, it has logical underpinning and thus the only way to solve it is to have cold, calculated, unbiased conversations about its creation, punishment and abolition. Any member of the bar can tell you that, and all of the major lawyers’ lobby groups have made this abundantly obvious to the Harper administration. But, as they’ve demonstrated before, the Harper Conservatives don’t want to end crime; they wish to milk it for all its worth at the polls.
My words towards the victims of crime may have been overly harsh, but they have a certain merit, although one which would be impossible to bring up in the overly politicized and emotionally jarring atmosphere of election debates or question period. In a healthy justice system, the punishment must fit the crime. If our courts use heavy-handed methods to squash every criminal no matter how small, not only will we find ourselves living in a police state, but there will be no fear of larger punishment to persuade an ambitious thief from becoming a contract killer on the side. Leniency, no matter how paradoxically, deters crime in its own way. But leniency doesn’t have to come in the form of acquittal, but in replacing prison sentences with psychiatric treatment, or providing convicts or high-risk individuals with work and importance. Rehabilitating is always easier, cheaper and more effective than retribution. The trouble is curing criminals is always much less popular with the victims than with the convicts. As a biased party, the victim will generally advocate for a harsher penalty to be exacted upon the perpetrator than any unconnected, unfeeling expert. And who can blame them? No matter how many times we were told to “turn the other cheek” as infants, “an eye for an eye” always held slightly more appeal. It’s for this reason the court is able to hear a victim’s statement for the benefit of their conscience, but that statement can never be used for determining sentencing. This is a crucial element of the criminal code that will be overturned by the new “victim based” legislation. Vengeance is a dish best served cold, and our government wants to turn down the heat in court.
As a prime piece of this government’s Tough on Crime agenda, victim based justice is yet another policy which was attempted and failed miserably in America giving the Tories just enough hope to revive in Canada. After all, if the Americans screwed themselves over with something, it’s only fair we do the same, right? That’s certainly our prime minister’s mindset, but unfortunately his beliefs are growing with a fair number of Canadians, especially immigrants whom the Conservatives have traditionally faired rather poorly with. Immigrants en masse make up the underbelly of the Canadian economic hierarchy along with aboriginals, although this government has always been incredibly clear in pointing out that the indigenous peoples of Canada are never to be more than an afterthought in their grand, “country building” designs. Poor people are generally the perpetrators of delinquency, or at least the ones we stuff in our overcrowded and over-budget prisons, but as a mysterious, statistical Godsend for the Conservatives, the impoverished are also the most common victims of crime as well. Even better, immigrants from Asia and the Middle East, especially from China, come from social backgrounds where crime is thought to be most effectively eradicated by the swipe of a sword or a few bloody thumbscrews. It is in this that our prime minister, whose caucus and voter base is as bland and white as the snow that covers our land, finds his primary point of agreement with this country’s substantial and growing population of foreigners. Only sixteen percent of Canadians physically voted for the Conservative party in the last election. One in five Canadians were born in another country. If Harper can tap into that demographic with any success at all, it doesn’t matter how many lawyers or natives he disgusts, his power will be assured.
So, what does it matter to Harper if under-aged criminals are sentenced as adults, if life sentences are served consecutively or if judges have no discretion in the restoration of order so long as he gets a few votes? It should at least matter to the taxpayer, the one person our prime minister purportedly got into politics to defend. The “revolutionary” ideas of mandatory minimums and adult sentencing for youth as well as other reforms recycled from a corrupt and putrid American legal system have already forced our government to waste billions on prisons that serve as the twenty-first century’s poor houses and mental asylums. Now is one of the few times in history that we have the tools, the technique and the knowledge to cure crime instead of simply punish it, but because of some underlying ferocity in human nature, we lack the political willpower. Our courts are becoming more dramatized, not more effectual. Several provinces are already considering allowing television cameras and the national audience into the once hallowed halls of justice. A “victim’s bill of rights” as the Peter McKay, the Minister Justice proclaims it, is only a natural step further towards the complete theatricality of law. Our legal system is on the brink of becoming little more than a few thousand courtroom dramas starring the hot-shot, dashing prosecutor, a sobbing victim and a crazed, unyielding heathen. Perhaps, to the general public, this was all justice ever was. But those children like I, with lawyers for parents who grew up seeing that law isn’t the instrument of vengeance, but humanity’s one last, noble attempt to set aside the grotesque mob for the quivering, shy wisdom of reason, will shed a tear for the death of our dear friend, civilization. No matter what spin doctors he hires, this form of retribution, this cruel bastard of justice, Harper’s insane law, will make victims of us all.
Photo Courtesy of: The Toronto Star