Sunday, 22 October 2006

Evaluating Harper: crime

Vic ToewsPart three in my evaluation of the Harper government, Conservative priority number three: making our streets and communities safer by cracking down on crime.

Well, I've got to start out with a horrific confession. This whole topic rather bores me. *Yawn* I don't see that crime has really got that much worse in recent years and the chances of any government doing anything truly effective to lower the levels we've got seem to be too small to matter. I don't even get excited about the gun registry, either keeping or scrapping it. Sorry. Although if they're going to keep it, they had better get costs under control. The cost/benefit analysis is practically enough to doom the programme all on its own.

But I can't avoid the topic altogether. Other than revulsion at Liberal corruption, the whole law and order question was probably the biggest trump card the Conservatives had in the last election. But as far as I'm concerned, the Liberals were not awful and the Conservatives are not wonderful in this portfolio. And vice versa.

Having said that, I rather like the recent "three strikes you're out" initiative. Under the proposed legislation,
a three-time repeat violent and sexual offender would have to convince a judge why he or she is not a dangerous offender -- a status that carries an indefinite prison sentence with no parole eligibility for seven years.

It's currently the Crown's task to prove repeat offenders are dangerous.

I just don't buy the slippery slope hysteria. I am personally a fierce defender of the "presumption of innocence", because it is at the base of an enlightened legal system. But the presumption of innocence is worn to tatters by the time someone has worked his way up to the third horrific offence, and I don't find it at unreasonable to say that at that point it is the offender who should bear the burden of proof. Protection of society should also be a major goal of the judicial system. I would like to hear opponents of this bill cite concrete cases of where the proposed bill would have brought about an abortion of justice.
Jason Gratl, of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, argued the justice system should be extremely cautious in how it asks for indeterminate sentences.

"We should bear in mind that an indefinite sentence is the nuclear bomb of the sentencing arsenal," he told CTV News last week.

"We don't have anything more harsh. We don't sentence people to death in this country, and we should be sparing in how we apply our most severe sentences."
Please, Mr. Gratl, get specific. I find it very hard to imagine how waiting until an offender has proven himself excessively nasty three times is not applying the most severe sentence sparingly. To get a real grasp of this issue we need two lists: first, a list of all the people who would have been prevented from committing further crimes if this provision had been in force, and the second, a list of all those who committed three horrific crimes, were convicted of them, and then turned into productive, law-abiding citizens without any further ado.

Please keep in mind, that three strikes you're out does not mean an inevitable designation as a dangerous offender. It just shifts the burden of proof, and in those conditions, I find it a very reasonable shifting. I would love to hear from anyone who can demonstrate (not argue) that I am wrong.

So even though this is not a portfolio that inflames me much one way or the other, I give the Conservatives a decent passing mark in this subject. Please feel free to enlighten my ignorance if you find that unreasonable.

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