The position of the U.S.A. as a world leader in incarceration was recently phrased as follows: “In the year 2000, 2 million (or 25%) of the world’s 8 million prisoners were housed in the U.S. (which only has 5% of the world’s population). That figure grew to nearly 2.3 million in 2010.” (http://goo.gl/Bqtwu) To bring the point home a bit, I add my own question: which party in the Canadian federal election most emulates the U.S. approach to criminal justice that has led the “land of the free” to be a world leader in incarcerating its citizens.
This blog is not a vehicle to criticize particular parties either directly, or indirectly by supporting another party. That said, it cannot be ignored that some of the last federal government’s justice initiatives had to be criticized directly (http://goo.gl/jX1g5), if only for ignoring the lessons that even so-called “law and order” politicians in the U.S. seem finally to have acknowledged.
The April 6, 2011, 1 hour special on the Current on CBC Radio1 offers the opportunity to even the critique among the parties a bit.
The topic was supposed to be “access to justice” and started with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada observing that the ‘middle class’ may be the most deprived of all. (At Legal Aid Ontario, you won’t qualify if your family of 5 has $3584 per month to live from, even though there is nothing left of that to pay lawyers for any significant work at the end of the month).
Later in the episode, three politicians came for a dog and pony show which utterly failed to address the very issue that was supposed to be under discussion. Current Minister of Justice Nicholson pounded the point that his government puts “the emphasis on victims and law-abiding citizens.” The unspoken corollary is that his government is NOT putting the emphasis on accused person’s rights. To presume that complainants are “victims” presupposes that the accused are guilty. No wonder the government’s solution to long remand times was to eliminate enhanced credit for pre-trial custody rather than making sure people can get earlier trial dates. The accused are all guilty anyways.
To their credit, Messer’s Leblanc & Comartin from the opposition did make the point that the government should get people to trial more quickly rather than reduce the credit for waiting in jail while supposedly presumed innocent. But all they seemed to say about it was that we need more Judges and more Crowns and more Police. This without any mention of the fact that there is a shortage of lawyers able to defend accused people already. Adding more crowns and judges without addressing the shortage of available defence lawyers means these two may be just as likely to overfill the jails as the opponent they claim to disagree with. Ironically, they missed the access to justice angle even when it naturally arose on an episode that was supposed to be dealing with that very issue in the first place.
So the politicians managed to obliterate the entire premise of the episode. But did the show offer anything to voters who are trying to make a reasonably informed decision about which political party is most likely to take Canada down the U.S. road to being a world leader in incarceration? You decide. This is not a partisan blog.