By Stephen Patrick
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, supported and encouraged by his Public Safety Minister, Vic Toews, for whom no inflammatory rhetoric is ever over the top, has made reform of Canada’s justice system a top priority. In doing so he’s managed to enrage jurists, journalists, police forces, and civil libertarians of all political stripes. This week alone four major jurists slammed his policies, and in fact a decision by Ontario Superior Court Judge Anne Molloy might even put the mandatory minimum gun law which was passed by Parliament in 2008 in jeopardy.
As reported in the National Post, Judge Molloy struck down a three-year sentence doled out to one Leroy Smickle who was discovered taking pictures of himself with a loaded hand-gun for use on his Facebook page. Smickle was “preening” apparently, had no criminal record, was employed and taking adult education courses, had a child and a fiancé. Wrong place, wrong time.
Judge Molloy was at pains to point out that she was “painfully aware” of the seriousness of gun crimes, but maintained that in this circumstance, the sentence constituted cruel and unusual punishment.
A day or so later, former Ontario Conservative Attorney General and later Chief Justice Roy McMurtry was joined by fabled defense lawyer Edward Greenspan and law professor Anthony Doob in a scathing attack on the Harper government’s reforms, published, again, in the National Post.
“The Harper crime policy is more than the sum of its parts because it tells us that the government is committed to ignoring evidence about crime, and does not care about whether our criminal justice system is just and humane. The student who grows six marijuana plants in her rented apartment to share with friends will soon face a mandatory minimum sentence of nine months in prison. Meanwhile, assaults have no mandatory minimum sentences.”
And if this student’s roommate grew only five plants, she would receive no mandatory minimum sentence.
What these learned jurists are concerned about is the Harper government’s refusal even to consider that the American model of justice it is adopting is considered by almost every judicial and criminology expert to be a disastrous failure. Their unrelenting desire, based on ignorance and ideology, to convert our system to one based virtually exclusively on punishment rather than justice, or, heaven forbid, mercy, represents a profound shift in our national culture.
And now Minister Toews has introduced a bill that would allow police and justice forces, even the Competition Bureau, to snoop around in your private Internet files at will. And anyone who opposes the bill, according to Toews, is in cahoots with child pornographers.
What’s also interesting, and should be of serious concern to the Harperites, is that the campaign to re-examine the Tories’ justice reforms is coming from some of our most conservative media voices, notably the above-mentioned National Post. One of the Post’s major commentators, Kelly McParland, has slammed Toew’s snooping bill, for example.
We all know that political parties pander to certain sections of their populist base on occasion. But this government’s stubborn refusal to consider the facts of the case (just the facts, Ma’am) is just unthinking arrogance. And for which, perhaps, it might pay a very serious price down the road.