Tackling a Problem that Doesn’t Exist

It is a curious thing, really, that despite campaigning heavily on jobs and economic issues, the first business our new Conservative federal government has chosen to table in Parliament this month is heavy-handed crime legislation. Granted, taking a tough stance on crime and justice issues is politically savvy—but in Canada, it’s all smoke and mirrors.

The overall crime rate in Canada has been on a long decline for several decades. Statistics Canada has reported several times that the national crime rate is now at the lowest level it’s been since the early 1970s.  Our country is very much a safer place than it once was, and considerably more so than most other countries in the world. Ironically, despite the Conservatives’ assertion that they alone are the party that can make Canada safe, the level of crime decreased rapidly under successive Liberal governments. Winning points with the electorate with talk is one thing; however, spending billions of dollars on unnecessary prisons and anti-crime infrastructure is simply a waste.

Since the crime (non-)issue emerged during the May election campaign, many academics have come forward and offered analysis that generally shows this spending will be futile. Such “tough on crime” measures have been employed in the United States for many decades and have failed spectacularly. Study after study shows how the American experiment of heavy penalties and high spending did little more than drain tax dollars away from badly needed improvements in other sectors, and certainly didn’t help deter a great deal of criminal activity, particularly violent offenses.

Considering the Conservatives’ strong electoral message that fiscal responsibility and prudent, sensible economic policies would be the rule, it’s strange that they are committing billions of dollars to a system proven not to work. What about the financial and manufacturing sectors of Canada’s economy, which demand intervention to correct problems? What about the country’s crumbling—in some cases, quite literally—infrastructure? Unemployment is still above pre-recession levels in much of the country, notable in Ontario, the largest province; youth unemployment levels are as high as 15% nationally. It’s difficult to understand the reasoning behind allowing millions of Canadians to struggle to find work and pay the bills, while diverting desperately needed resources away from social services and into fighting non-existent crime.

At their heart, these crime policies aren’t designed to create a safer environment or enhance the public good; they are simply flashpoints that allow for great soundbites and political capital. By stoking people’s fears, however unwarranted, with tough talk and an image of a government that will do anything to stop crime—again, crime that doesn’t exist—Stephen Harper’s Conservatives can claim bragging rights in terms of protecting Canadians without actually working to solve deep-seated social issues.

Ideally, rather than build more prisons and stack them full of people that probably don’t need to be there, the government could take the substantial amounts of money they’re about to waste and use it to help the citizenry and prevent crime before it starts. For example, money could be directed into a special federal-provincial job creation fund wherein the federal government disseminates money to the provinces to create or enhance work programs. Or they could provide benefits to businesses that expand and hire more people. In such troubled economic times, if anything more is done to get people working, then the crime rate will likely continue to drop. After all, when people are working they are much less likely to resort to criminal activity, particularly in challenged demographics such as young or new Canadians.

If the Conservative government was truly interested in tackling the problems that currently plague Canada, it would be wise to start by checking the facts and making some sensible decisions based on real data and consultation—not politically self-serving falsehoods that serve only to inflate the cost of the justice system without providing any real solutions.

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