Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Why are we so dammed afraid to get smart on crime?

As a Liberal who would describe himself as socially moderate and fiscally conservative, I'm increasingly angry and frustrated with the inability and unwillingness of the centre/left to get smart on crime policy. Increasingly, we’re letting the conservatives define the terms of the debate as we cower in the corner frightened and whimpering, afraid of being tarred with that label of political death: soft on crime.

I remember being dumbfounded during the 2005/06 election campaign, when the Paul Martin Liberals included support for mandatory minimum sentences for some (gun-related) crimes in the election platform, a move to echo ineffective Conservative policy proposals that was also adapted by the NDP.

Mandatory minimums don’t work, the evidence on that point from the U.S. is pretty overwhelming. Criminals know what they’re doing is wrong and they know there are consequences, mandatory minimums aren’t a deterrent. They do nothing to prevent crime, they only increase prison populations. They're about appearing tough on crime without doing the heavy-lifting to actually prevent crime.

Yet mandatory minimums were back this spring, with the Conservatives proposing them for a range of drug-related crimes including, in some cases, simple possession. And while the NDP stayed offside this time (they were voting against everything at that point) the Liberals, rather than having the courage to call bullshit, rather than having the willingness and the gumption to argue (with the facts on our side, by the way) that this is an expensive and ineffective excuse for crime fighting legislation that will do nothing to address crime, instead took one look at the polls and the election possibility and, afraid of the “soft on crime” canard, supported the legislation.

And now, as I wrote yesterday, we see a trial balloon from Conservative justice minister Rob Nicholson about making a mockery of civil rights and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to “randomly” force people to submit to breathalyzer testing.

I was astounded, and I wasn’t, to see NDP leader Jack Layton immediately jump on board with this big-brotherish Conservative proposal, in a seeming abandonment of the core principles I’d have ascribed to the NDP:

The New Democrats would support efforts to craft a new law to curb impaired driving by giving police the power to conduct random breathalyzer tests, says Jack Layton.

"It’s the kind of thing that could save some lives," the NDP leader said Monday outside the House of Commons.
I guess civil liberties don’t mean much to Layton when it comes to appearing to be tough on crime to troll for votes. Sadly, my Liberals may be following down that same road. Don Martin, in a column where he argues in support of this thing, indicates the Liberals are supportive of the proposal although he doesn’t quote sources.

Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh is quoted by the CBC as raising many of the same concerns I raised yesterday but, to my dismay, he doesn’t dismiss the proposal outright:
Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh, the former attorney general of British Columbia and a member of the House justice committee, said the question of whether any legislation would be allowable under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms would come down to implementation.

"It remains to be seen what the actual legislation is when the minister brings it forward because we want to make sure that it's appropriately constrained and it's not too much of an infringement on civil liberties," Dosanjh told CBC News.

Dosanjh said the charter does allow for constraints on rights when they are deemed reasonable, but said he would need to see how those constraints are implemented before judging any future legislation.

"For instance... I wouldn’t want the east side of Vancouver monitored more than the west side of Vancouver because there is a clear economic division in the city," he said.

"We want to make sure that areas are not unnecessarily excessively focused on and that's why I think that we need to make sure that the legislation is properly drafted with appropriate constraints and guidelines for the police," he said.

I can’t believe my party is even considering this legislation which, to me, is diametrically opposed to what the Liberal Party of Canada, the party of the charter, has always stood for. And I’m surprised that I’m finding more alliance with conservatives, particularly I’m guessing libertarian Conservatives, in my opposition to this thing. Even the National Post’s editorial board thinks this is a bad idea. And while they occasionally publish my musings on the Web, the Post’s editors and I rarely, if ever, agree on policy.

So I ask again, why are we so dammed afraid of the crime issue? Why do we let the Conservatives falsely define the terms of debate?

We have the facts on our side, but we’re unwilling to even make the argument. Why aren’t we saying the Conservatives are soft on crime? Why aren’t we saying their crime policy is nothing but politically-motivated posturing designed to stoke public fears to win votes but that will do absolutely nothing to prevent crime?

Why aren't we pointing-out that, under the previous Liberal governments, most crime rates actually declined steadily, proof that the approach of balancing enforcement and detention with prevention and addressing root causes, being smart on crime, actually works?

Why aren’t we saying the Conservative crime-policy is half-assed? Why aren’t we saying that by ignoring crime prevention, by strangling crime reduction measures that are proven to work such as Insite, by doing nothing to address poverty and root causes, by focusing on detention and sentencing to the exclusion of all other areas of criminal justice, the Conservative crime policy is fatally flawed? That the Conservatives are ignoring measures that could actually reduce crime?

No, we’re not doing that. We’re too afraid we’ll lose and be labeled soft on crime. It’s pathetic.

I will grant that it would be a tough debate to win. It’s far easier to appeal to people’s demons than their better angels, its easier to stoke their fears than encourage their compassion, to sink to the lowest common denominator rather than raise the debate.

It would be difficult to do, but it would be the right thing to do. We have the facts on our side, we have truth on our side.

We might well lose the debate. But it’s not the debates that we lose that bother me. It's the debates we can’t be bothered to suit up for.

If we’re going to fall, we should fall standing-up for something.

Right now, we’re falling standing for nothing.

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26 comments:

Pearce Richards said...

Hey, blogged about this today myself. Pretty ridiculous stuff.

The worst part? MADD (the biggest lobby group for this law) KNOWS it is against the charter, but they are willing to implement it for the ~5 years it would be in effect before being struck down...

http://www.edmontonsun.com/news/canada/2009/10/06/11317466-sun.html

The courts would have a field day with this... But why are we even passing unconstitutional laws in the first place?

Oh...

"That enables the government to say 'our populist instincts are consistent with yours, Mr. and Mrs. Voter, but the liberal courts won't let us do it'."

...Right...

MississaugaPeter said...

Jeff,

I am disappointed.

This whining reminds me of the minority who whined when seat belt use became mandatory and the minority who whined when restaurants had to eliminate smoking areas.

The Conservatives, NDP, and Liberals will support this initiative because it is the right thing to do and its time has come.

Pearce Richards said...

Nice false analogy between smoking/seatbelt laws. There are obvious reasonable grounds for the stoppage / intervention in those cases. This is an arbitrary, random stop on the road, when there are no reasonable grounds for any stop. No swerving, nothing... You're just driving down the road and they can stop you.

If I'm stopped by the police, I have nothing to hide. Still, I don't want to be unnecessarily impeded by the government, and I don't want the police to have the power to stop me and look in my car whenever they want. It's a matter of principle.

If only more people would "whine" about when our major political parties show such contempt for the Charter.

Lord of Wealth/Green Assassin Brigade said...

Mississauga Peter there is never a right time to unjustifiably infringe on my rights.

Suspensions, education and spot checks have done more than enough that there is no need and certainly no Legal Right to stop me without cause. This law will just be used as another way to hide the excessive stops based on profiling .

What's next random checks by the police to my home at night to sniff for pot, or loot the fridge for expired yogurt.

MississaugaPeter said...

"Suspensions, education and spot checks have done more than enough"

I don't think so...

http://www.mississauga.com/news/news/article/151979

"Last year, police conducted close to 784,000 spot checks, resulting in 970 impaired driving charges and 1,900 12 hour license suspensions."

That means that 1 in every 750 cars had an impaired driver. That's way too high!

As I mentioned in Jeff's other post, I was stopped in Sydney, Australia. It was at 11:00 a.m. and it took a grand total of 30 seconds to stop, count 1, 2, 3, 4 into a wand, and be on my merry way. I had my wife and 4 children with me, and I was grateful that the Australian government cared. Note: the legal limit in Australia is .05 vs .08 in Canada (maybe that should be next).

catnip said...

Blogger, check thyself.

Why are you using the right-wing talking point that Liberals are "dammed afraid to get smart on crime"? That headline defeats your post.

catnip said...

Blogger, check thyself.

Why are you using the right-wing talking point that Liberals are "dammed afraid to get smart on crime"? That headline defeats your post.

Pearce Richards said...

catnip - because not everything needs to be insanely partisan. It is OKAY to criticize your own party.

MississaugaPeter - I'm so happy for you that you willingly gave up your right to be free from undue search and seizure. Not everyone is so eager to acquiesce to police demands to stop and search your car.

Canadian silver bug/Green Assassin Brigade said...

Yes, 1 in 750 mostly taken late at night on major arteries often down the road from heavy grouping of bars where they have cause to expect someone has been drinking. Justifiable stop checks

Vs.

the same number people stopped at 10:00 am in locations chosen by throwing darts at the wall.

I assure you, not only is there no resonable cause to stop anyone at this time but also your results will be a few % of the late night haul at most.

No one is saying we should stop doing the spot checks "that make sense" but true random stops are invasive, not justified and will have megre results compared to the normal night time spot checks.

There has to be a resonable accomodation between personal rights and public safety, this is pushing what is resonable.

Greg said...

I'm not sure if I like that idea.

"Let's start attacking the Conservatives as being soft on crime."

After all, their policies are hard on crime and that's the problem: being hard on crime makes more crime.

MississaugaPeter said...

Listen and read...

http://www.globalnational.com/story.html?id=2067788

"The Traffic Injury Research Foundation reports that in 2006, 907 Canadians were killed in traffic accidents involving a driver who had earlier been drinking.

The justice committee, in its recent report, concluded the “current methods of enforcing the law lead police officers to apprehend only a small percentage of impaired drivers, even at roadside traffic stops.”

The report noted an Australian study showed a 36% decrease in the number of people killed in drunk-driving accidents after several states adopted random testing. An Irish study reported a 23 per cent drop in traffic deaths after Ireland passed a similar law in 2006."

Only 1 in 1000 drunk drivers are presently caught.

400 less fatalities every year - 1 less fatality every day.

Greg said...

None of the parties is coming off looking good to me. They are all trying to look harder than the next guy (and it seems to be a gigantic sausage fest). Layton is off base here and so is Brian Murphy, who I saw on Newsworld extolling the virtues of random testing and claiming that if "dear old Ireland" does it, it is ok by him.

Aurelia said...

Actually the majority of deaths from impaired driving are committed by chronic long term alcoholics who are determined to drink and drive, not Mr. and Mrs. Average Canadian out for dinner and a few drinks.

The recent case of the drunk driver who could have been declared a dangerous offender is an example of this.

Instead, after murdering several people with his car over the years, he was finally given a life sentence.

Finally.

Random checks will not catch this guy, or keep him locked up. Most of his sentences were less than a year or suspended.

The CPC are doing nothing to change this. They aren't tough on crime. They only pretend to be.

Pearce Richards said...

MississaugaPeter -

Yes, but you still haven't explained how the arbitrary infringement of my S. 8 rights is justified by that. I don't drink and drive. No reasonable justification for a stop/search, no dice.

Gayle said...

This is an open invitation for the cops to use this provision as a guise to search people they suspect of other crimes.

I am guessing a lot of males between 16-24, particularly those who are not white, are going to find themselves the subject of these random searches.

Oh, and then there is this:

http://news.ca.msn.com/canada/cbc-article.aspx?cp-documentid=22094869

Ti-Guy said...

we’re letting the conservatives define the terms of the debate as we cower in the corner frightened and whimpering, afraid of being tarred with that label of political death: soft on crime.

Well, who's going to be the first non-Conservative to push back and express what we all know to be true: Conservatives live for the vicarious thrill of seeing other people suffer.

You?

I don't think they even believe this "tough on crime" nonsense will actually do anything about crime. They just like the fact that it causes the rest of us so much grief.

catnip said...

Pearce,

Your reply to me doesn't make sense.

because not everything needs to be insanely partisan. It is OKAY to criticize your own party.

BCer is complaining about how the Liberal party is perceived but he's titled his post with the scaredy cat strawman.

I'm non-partisan and I'll criticize anyone. Are you saying the title is sarcasm? That's the only way it would make sense. (Not that I'm losing sleep over the issue or anything...)

Barcs said...

1 in 750 drivers (1 in 808 if you can actually do math)

Later you stated only 1 in 1000 drunk drivers are caught.


I realize like CSB said, that the sample is skewed by the time/location the stop check is taken (you don't seem to).

but if I read your numbers right, but not taking into account that skew... some of those cars that are caught have more than one driver. ?!?

That not being the case it would seem that current laws are working just fine.... (nice credibility by the way Mr. Peter.)

Further to that, 2875 people were killed in car crashes in 2004 (Stats Can). If 400 people are killed each year by drivers over the limit... that leaves 2475 that are killed as a result of .... just being on the road.

It would seem to me that you should be arguing that all vehicles should be off the road rather than just the drunk ones... think of how many lives you can save!!!!!

Lets all stay in bed.... no wait that might cause some extra suffocation.

Barcs said...

Jeff, I can agree with you that the "root causes" of crime need to be addressed.

But I disagree that "Criminals know what they’re doing is wrong and they know there are consequences, mandatory minimums aren’t a deterrent."

Because the logical conclusion to that argument is that punishment doesn't work at all... therefore we should remove all jails.


"crime is going down" really? or is it just reported crime that is going down? The last 2 times my truck got broke into I didn't even bother to report it. There is no remedy, and and I didn't lose much.

We do need to work on the causes of crime and help those who need it, but when that fails we need to be hard on offenders, very hard on those that repeatedly break the rules. At the very least remove them from the general population. A repeat offender simply cannot repeat again if they are not in a position to do so.

rockfish said...

Sorry Jeff, but if in the end this could result in Gordon Campbell getting another stint in the crowbar hotel, this is a winner...

MississaugaPeter said...

Hi Barc!

The two numbers come from 2 different references.

The first, 1 in 750 was a rough estimate of the first referenced article. It stated:

“"Last year, police conducted close to 784,000 spot checks, resulting in 970 impaired driving charges and 1,900 12 hour license suspensions."

The truth is, that it is 1 in 808 (970/784,000) for impaired driving, but also 1 in 412 (1,900/784,000) had so much alcohol that they had their licenses suspended. Stop at any busy urban intersection, and watch up how quickly 412 cars go through it.

The second, was a quote from the second referenced article. It stated:

"The Traffic Injury Research Foundation reports that in 2006, 907 Canadians were killed in traffic accidents involving a driver who had earlier been drinking."

"The report noted an Australian study showed a 36% decrease in the number of people killed in drunk-driving accidents after several states adopted random testing. An Irish study reported a 23 per cent drop in traffic deaths after Ireland passed a similar law in 2006."

If you listen to the broadcast, it is there that the 400 saved lives and 1 in 1000 caught drunk drivers numbers are referenced.

Either way, INCREASING SPOT CHECKS will save lives, prevent many more accidents from occurring, and since they have not done thus far, will NOT infringe into my freedom of movement.

Look, I grew up in Alberta at a time when there were almost no Drinking and Driving information programs. In university, I did do the unmentionable outside the Christmas period. I should not have. I never got caught. I was never involved in an accident. But it was stupid and I know that the deterrent of spot checks (outside the Christmas period) would have prevented me from this stupid and dangerous behaviour.

Barcs said...

I told you that the numbers in the 2 reports don't mesh... and you simply repeated them. It doesn't twinkle your spidy sense some when numbers cross like that??

You can't present both as fact without looking at the skew that goes into them. I have heard others that suggest 1 in 4 drivers after 1:00 am are legally impaired. They just can't seem to provide proof for their numbers.


"Either way, INCREASING SPOT CHECKS will save lives," -- Absolutely it would. but as it is written, this proposal would infringe on rights of unreasonable search and seizure, And my right to go on about my business without impingement from the government.

Of course we could even install Russian type stop checks on every 3rd corner. I have no doubt that would have even more of an effect on crime as you point out that more is better. Do you feel it is appropriate to Whip out your ID to a policeman every 10 mins to prove you aren't the one they are looking for.


As for your admission. I don't expect that you will be trotting down to the station to turn yourself in and confess to them. So this obviously isn't about doing what is right. It is about you feeling good because you can force control on others. Punish them; even for things you yourself did.

Dennis Prouse said...

It's worth noting that New South Wales in Australia has been doing this for almost 20 years. When introduced, they saw a sharp drop in alcohol related fatalities on the roads.

The rationale is this - while traditional anti-impaired driving efforts have succeeded in discouraging many social drinkers from having that last drink, they have been far less effective in targeting chronic alcoholics. These are the kind of people who are driving in a drunken stupor at 11 AM on a weekday, having just downed the first of their daily bottles. They have found in these other jurisdictions that random breath tests are effective in getting these drunks off the road. Indeed, even just the threat of a random breath test has proven to be effective. I understand the civil liberties argument, but when it comes to driving a vehicle I think that ship sailed long ago. We put up with any number of other compromises to civil liberties in the name of public safety, including traditional roadblocks. What makes this so much worse?

Barcs said...

"We put up some ergo we shoudl put up with more." - paraphrased from Dennis'.

????

That has to be one of the stupidest arguments ever conceived.. I don't know why people keep using it in situations like these.


And further to that; you don't see any difference between setting up a roadblock to check people in the areas and times that are most likely to catch people.... and giving police the power to randomly pull people over any time to issue a breathalyzer?

The request itself is an affront to liberties... It is one of almost no instances where if you refuse to give a sample it results in guilty plea and a conviction.

Atleast today they have to have reasonable cause to ask for it. If this goes through they won't

The Red Fox said...

Good post BC ,but as a Con supporter I need to know why liberals always support oollective rights over individual rights historically.I do find this proposal by Madd totally repugnant and any politician regardless of party affiliation who supports it only cares about partisian politics and not individual rights.

Jeff Jedras said...

catnip,

Why are you using the right-wing talking point that Liberals are "dammed afraid to get smart on crime"?

I don't think I am. I said "smart" while the Con tp is soft. My argument is that by being so afraid of being soft on crime we're actually being stupid on crime. Which is bad.

greg,

After all, their policies are hard on crime and that's the problem: being hard on crime makes more crime.

What I'm arguing is to turn their soft on crime talking-point around on them.

By ignoring methods proven to reduce and prevent crime, such as harm reduction, etc., the Conservatives are ignoring measures that would actually reduce crime. Couldn't that be argued as soft on crime?

The point being, the Cons are more interested in being seen as tough on crime then in actually doing things that will reduce it.

barcs,

Because the logical conclusion to that argument is that punishment doesn't work at all... therefore we should remove all jails.

Of course not.

What I'm saying is increasing a sentence from, say, 10 to 20 years isn't going to reduce the likelihood of that crime being committed. The person knows its wrong, they know the consequences, they've made their choice.

So you can make sentences as tough as you want and feel good about it, but it's not going to accomplish what should be the main goal: reducing crime.

Therefore, instead of spending so much time focusing on sentencing, I argue why not look at more effective measures, such as prevention, harm reduction, root causes? These are things that, unlike tougher sentences or mandatory minimums that remove judicial discretion, can actually work.