Winners don’t declare war on drugs


Last week, I was talking shop with a friend of mine who’s working on a local provincial candidate’s campaign, and she said something that, although seemingly obvious, is pretty revelatory: all the parties in the province are visibly trying to address the interests of their constituents. Sure, they have different ideas about how to go about it, but they all want education to be affordable, they all want health care to be accessible, and they all want to encourage investment in our province’s industries and resources.

And then we turned to the federal parties, at which point we were stymied. In particular, we just couldn’t figure out the Tories’ omnibus crime bill.

There are issues on the federal level that all the parties do want to address –copyright reform, for example. And while there are serious ideological differences in how they’re addressing electoral reform, all parties are still interested in it.

But with crime rates dropping across Canada, the Tories are the only party that believes we need to get tougher on crime. Their omnibus crime bill, by and large, is trying to fix something that isn’t broken by breaking it.

Though nearly all of the bill’s provisions that have made criminology experts and representatives from the Canadian Bar Association publicly recoil from it, Bill C-10’s attitude towards drug crime will have serious consequences for Canada.

The short version is that the bill intends to send drug dealers to prison, increasing mandatory sentences for growing and selling substances like marijuana and restricting house arrest. Not only will this fail to have any serious impact on the drug trade – it neither cuts off dealers’ supply, nor clamps down on demand – it has the potential to clog our prisons and divert resources from serious crimes addressed elsewhere in the bill toward fighting a war on drugs.

Compounding this are other elements of the bill, such as the provisions making it more difficult to obtain pardons and thus harder to get jobs, meaning offenders will be at greater risk to re-offend. Meaning we'll need to build more prisons to house new offenders and re-offenders, and money that could be spent on crime prevention will go to building more prisons and, if we aren't careful, to private industry.

In The Wire, maybe the best long-form fictional exploration of America’s war on drugs in television history, Detective Lester Freamon’s mantra is that if you follow the money, you don’t know what shit you’ll stir up. And when it comes to the prison industry, money flows in two directions: towards those who build prisons, and towards those who run them.

Bill C-10 is guaranteed to send more people to prison, there's no doubt about it. That’s its point. And a larger prison population means a larger prison industry.

In America, where the prison industry employs 800,000 people according to an MSNBC report from this month, the Department of Corrections simply isn't large enough to manage the entire industry. According to that same report, the U.S. government outsources the management of eight per cent of their million-plus prison population to private companies, companies that make billions of dollars to keep people busted with only enough cocaine to get high incarcerated. For those companies, more people in prison means a higher profit margin, and in America they do their damndest to ensure that they’re making money.

Canadian taxpayers want safer streets, and they want the penal code to respect the rights of victims. Those are both commendable things to want. But this bill won't do either of those things. It will expand our prison culture, it will turn rehabilitation into punishment, it will increase our crime rate (and thus the number of victims of crime), and it will push our system inevitably towards privatization. Who in their right mind wants that, and who in their right mind wants to pay somebody else for it?

John Cameron

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