The Hill: It’s nothing new from the Conservatives

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson stood in the House of Commons the other day and announced that he is increasing penalties for drive-by shootings and gang violence.
It comes after 18 shootings leaving six dead in six weeks on the West Coast, most of them in gang killings.

This is nothing new from the Conservatives. Every few years they toughen the laws.  Two years ago it was for Toronto. Now it’s for Vancouver.

Whenever there’s a sudden spike in criminal violence somewhere in Canada, Stephen Harper and his Conservatives very quickly take advantage of it.

They attack the Opposition as soft on crime, attack the judges as irresponsible, and haul out more tougher sentencing legislation and quickly force it through Parliament to await the next outbreak of violence. They present themselves as a bulwark against all those softies that would have us all killed by criminal gangs.

The latest legislation from Harper and Nicholson imposes a mandatory minimum of four years for conviction of a drive-by shooting, and if it’s done by a gang member (try proving it in court) or using a restricted weapon (try finding it) the penalty is increased to five years minimum.

Whoopie! That’ll really frighten the gangs!
Gang members threatened by a rival gang moving into their territory don’t say to each other, “Oh my, we mustn’t go shoot up their clubhouse because Stephen Harper has a four-year prison sentence for drive-by shootings.”

Criminologists and police experts say that tougher laws don’t deter violent criminals or gang members. It is more complex than that.

Violent crooks don’t think like the rest of us. That’s why upping jail time doesn’t work. Prevention works. Get them while they are young.  More cops works. Better education works. Fighting poverty works.
Actually Nicholson wasn’t as bad as Harper on this day. 

The reporter afterwards asked if the legislation would solve gang violence on the West Coast. (The reporter added, “In time for the Olympics!”) Nicholson replied only, “These are all steps in the right direction.”

“Will it cut it in half?” continued the reporter.
“No, it is only one measure,” replied Nicholson. It was Harper himself out on the West Coast for his photo op later in the day who went over the top, standing in front of an angry crowd, one of whom carried a sign “Judges are the Problem.”

Harper blamed the Commons Opposition and “so-called” crime experts for the existence of criminal gangs on the Opposition in the Commons. (Harper can never resist a cheap shot at crime experts.)
Harper continued: “We know we will hear the Opposition parrot the critics.” (Nice verb, Stephen.) “They all believe in soft-on-crime policies.”

Would he go further and remove the two-for-one credit on days spent in jail before trial as the Opposition was asking, the reporter wanted to know. It was not a question Harper chose to answer.
“Those who say that tougher penalties don’t work, don’t want them to work,” continued Harper. (Harper is like that. He can’t help himself.)

Actually in the past two years the Opposition in Ottawa has gone along with most of Harper’s anti-crime legislation - including this latest legislation, and in some cases further than Harper.

On the other hand, the Harper government has failed in the past two years to spend all the money allocated by Parliament to youth crime prevention programs. Back in Ottawa an hour later, Liberal justice critic Ujjal Dosanjh said: “Let’s be comprehensive in dealing with crime.

“Let’s not make Canadians believe there’s a magic solution at one end of the spectrum by punishing people after the fact. Yes, that leads to some deterrence, but we do need some more crime prevention, more police, more after-hours programs for youth.

“For the past three years, this government has made Canadians believe that all that needs to be done is getting tougher sentences,” said Dosanjh. “They are only interested in winning election. [sic]”
Back in Vancouver, Harper explained at the news conference: “We got elected because we know the people of Canada want us to take a tougher stand on crime.”

The crowd around him
applauded loudly.

Richard Cleroux is a freelance reporter and columnist on Parliament Hill. His e-mail address is [email protected].

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