The Harper government has done a good job of silencing critics from within, bureaucratics and caucus members who disagree with the government’s often regressive and ideologically-driven policies on crime and justice. But the Cons face a formidable new foe who can’t be silenced or dismissed as a crackpot. Six months after retirement, a long-serving and universally admired architect of federal crime and justice measures, Mary Campbell (inset), has unleashed withering criticism of the Tories, calling their so called tough-on-crime measures a series of “slogans and failed policies” that reflect a “deep, visceral nastiness” and “do nothing to reduce or address crime.”
The federal politician who has stage managed some of the biggest changes in the federal prison system in its 178-year history is calling it quits. Public Safety Minister Vic Toews (inset) announced he’s quitting the federal cabinet and politics “in order to focus on my family and to pursue opportunities in the private sector.” (his full statement after the jump). Under Toews, the budget of Corrections Canada has swollen by more than 50%, from roughly $2 billion in 2006-07 to an estimated $3 billion in projected spending in 2012-13. Toews legacy likely will be that he permitted the creation of a dysfunctional, tax-sucking system more like the repressive penitentiary regime of the 19th century – a system that spews out angrier, more violent and embittered ex-convicts who are just as likely to commit more crimes. (UPDATE: July 15, 2013 Prime Minister Stephen Harper named Quebec MP Steven Blaney as Toews’ replacement)
Carmen Robinson should be 56, a greying boomer, perhaps an early retiree discovering the joy of life untethered from the daily grind. Time to sip mid morning lattes. Time to lounge with a favourite book. Time for family. Instead, Carmen (inset) is a smiling snapshot, a memory, a life with no conclusion. She also is a statistic, one of thousands of unsolved murders that have been accumulating in Canada in the past half century. Carmen was just 17 when she stepped off a bus a few blocks from her home in Victoria, British Columbia, on December 8, 1973. She vanished and was, it is presumed, murdered. Her body has not been found and her killer remains unknown.
A meagre, last-minute grant from the federal government has rescued the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime. The independent agency faced imminent shutdown without funding for 2013. Ottawa came through with $50,000, a paltry amount, that will allow the agency to function next year, though it will still have to scratch together additional cash.
An invaluable agency that operates on a shoestring budget, and provides critical service to victims in the criminal justice system, is in danger of shutting its doors. The Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime is one of the few organizations that assists victims who wish to attend parole hearings of the criminals who victimized them. At a time when Ottawa is spending billions of additional dollars on prisons, how could it possibly allow this agency to disappear when it requires a minimum of just $100,000 to continue functioning?
Randjida Khairi is the 16th 17th person to die in Canada in the past two decades in an honour killing, a Canadian court has confirmed. Today, a jury convicted her husband Peer (inset) of second-degree murder in her slaying in Toronto in 2008. My research shows that there have been at least 15 16 previous deaths in cases that led to convictions since 1990. Peer Khairi, an Afghan immigrant, stabbed his wife five times and slashed her throat nearly through to her spine. The trial heard that he was enraged because of his wife’s defiance and because she had sided with their children who had adopted liberal, Western attitudes to clothing and dating.
UPDATED OCT. 15: This post has sparked a national letter-writing campaign – and media attention – spearheaded by a British Columbia woman, Sandra Martins-Toner, whose 16-year-old son Matthew was murdered. Martins-Toner, who started a victims’ rights group to press for changes to the justice system, says it’s an outrage that convicts get ice cream. She’s appealing through Facebook for help.
Corrections Canada is scrambling to build more prison cells to house thousands more inmates who’ll be imprisoned because of the Tory tough-on-crime agenda, but they’re mindful of appeasing those convicts with frozen treats. It’s all there on the government’s contracting website, MERX, where Corrections has hastily issued an appeal for bidders to plan and supervise the construction of spaces for 192 more inmates at Bath Institution, a medium-security prison near Kingston, Ontario. On the same website, you can find a Corrections call for proposals to deliver ice cream to several federal pens in Quebec, including the prison where serial child killer Clifford Olson is housed. The ice cream deal is worth a cool $43,000.
In just 3 days we’ll find out if Tory cabinet minister Stockwell Day was fibbing, or perhaps ad-libbing, or perhaps he’s prescient – when he said in August that the amount of crime that Canadians do not report to authorities is increasing. Day trotted out that strange non sequitur during a news conference when he was asked to justify the billions more the Conservatives plan to spend on prisons because of an agenda that will put many more people behind bars for longer periods. In 3 days, Statistics Canada will release a significant report that will reveal how much unreported crime is out there.
The Tory cash train continues its cross-country prison tour, making whistlestops in every community where the government hopes a mammoth expansion plan can be spun as economic development. Yesterday, Industry Minister Tony Clement played the part of conductor, tossing $15 million from the back step of the caboose in Gravenhurst, Ontario, site of Fenbrook Institution, a medium-security federal penitentiary, one of 35 in the country where new cells will be built (shush though, don’t be spreading that around – it’s still considered top secret by the government and Corrections Canada, despite the fact that I got my hands on the secret list early last month and published it.)
The federal Tories have politicized a prison space crisis in a bid to make emergency spending look like economic development, charges a Liberal MP. Conservative MPs and ministers have begun criss-crossing the country, making campaign-style announcements at each one of 35 federal penitentiaries where new cells will be built to accommodate an exploding inmate population. “The Conservatives don’t miss an opportunity to try to turn anything into pork barrelling and so what they’re doing of course is masquerade this outrageous and outlandish prison spending as somehow being a stimulus to the economy,” Ajax-Pickering MP Mark Holland told me Wednesday. Holland is the party’s critic on corrections issues.