Jun 16TH, 2009 – Hello Americanized justice system, it’s nice to see you’ve taken up our government’s offer to come live in Canada. Perhaps you can have your friends Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff start filling out immigration papers for your relatives: relaxed gun laws and private health care.
On June 8, a bill, C-15 (2009), passed its third reading in Canada’s House of Commons with the support of the Conservatives and the Liberals. Now it goes to the Senate, and provided they approve, it’ll be law. The bill imports Mandatory Minimum Sentences (MMS) into Canada’s drug policy – a key strategy of the failed U.S. approach.
Supporters of C-15 love how it sticks MMS to organized crime and to those who traffic drugs using violence or children. Also, setting booby-traps in production houses and operating them near children or in rental properties will get you mandatory jail time. Deal drugs near kids, and you’re behind bars for sure.
Increasing the maximum sentences for crimes like these is a good idea. Organized crime is terrible, what with the gangland killings in Canada’s big cities and the influx of cocaine and weapons from across the border.
But why stake out minimums? We don’t trust judges to be able to tell right from wrong enough to put truly rotten people in jail? We should take away a judge’s ability to weigh mitigating factors such as no prior convictions, wrong place/wrong time or other contextual factors into sentencing?
Now the judge has to give a MMS to a pusher brewing up meth in a lab beside his five-year-old child’s bedroom. Good. And a MMS for a woman growing cannabis from three plants she keeps in her apartment to provide for her chemotherapy-riddled dad. Good…?
Under C-15, the judge has no choice. Forget that, unlike meth, cannabis has a growing body of research showing that it has a litany of desirable medicinal properties. Sure, just like your daily dose of caffeine, smoking weed can foster dependency. But it isn’t even addictive like cigarettes, alcohol and prescription pills.
MMS represents sloppy, cowardly and ideological policy-making at its most irresponsible, and cannabis has no place being lumped together with cocaine, meth and heroin in the good fight against degenerative drug use.
The NDP, Bloc and many Liberals have spoken out on the ignorance of MMS. The vast majority of those testifying before Parliament’s Justice and Human Rights committee affirmed that MMS is a bad idea. They said that there’s absolutely no evidence that MMS reduces offense rates. They pointed out that the example set in the U.S. is exploding prison populations and soaring enforcement costs. They suggested that throwing small-time pot growers away with coke pushers will strengthen organized crime’s claim on the cannabis trade (B.C.’s largest agricultural crop by GDP share, and one that the courts have affirmed as a right for disease sufferers who need palliative care – also one that Health Canada has demonstrated they can’t adequately supply).
The Conservatives didn’t listen. To them, it’s easier to lock people up than to deal with the problem. They threw language into the bill that pays lip service to treatment and spread the word that they’re “tough on crime.” It’s wedge politics. Support the bill, and you get points from reactionaries – smear anyone who doesn’t vote for the bill as “soft on crime.” If his attack ads are any indication, Harper pays close attention to U.S. politicking and understands that being simplistically juvenile on crime policy is an effective vote-getter.
Of course, Ignatieff is angling for an election and doesn’t want to have to spend precious campaign time explaining the nuances of what real justice looks like. It’s a shame he didn’t kill two birds with one stone by standing up for toughened sentences while opposing MMS. He could have shown Canadians that he’s willing to put principal before the shameless pursuit of power while combating the suggestion that he really does think of himself as an American. By directing his party to vote in favour of importing a U.S.-style War on Drugs, Ignatieff only reinforced the slander that he’s so comfortable with life in the U.S., he’d like to bring the “best” parts of it home to Canada.
BY Cody Willett. Source.