Crime in the streets

Aftera big loss on same-sex marriage last spring, the Conservatives are hoping for acomeback with crime as their new issue to clobber the Liberals with in the fallsession of the Commons.

The Conservatives had so much fun batting Karla Homolka about during the summer, with a backdrop of street shootings in Toronto, that Stephen Harper has decided to launch his own task force on crime.

But alas it's only about street crime. And street crimes are only seven per cent of all crimes in Canada. It's not even listed as a priority for most Canadians in public opinion polls.

But street crime attracts tons of media attention and above all is easy for MPs to comment on. It's simple: no complicated numbers, no Byzantine tax laws. What's easy to understand, gets easy votes.

So this fall expect to hear over and over all about illegal drugs (crystal meth is the flavour of the month); gang violence (especially in high schools); and car theft.

Harper did a dry run with his crime crusade through British Columbia this summer. He was a big hit in the rural areas which the Conservatives need to hold in the next election.

So last week in the Commons, when the rest of the country was watching Michaelle Jean and her little daughter stealing our hearts in the Senate chamber, over in the Commons the Conservatives got down to work.

They came up with a "teen sex bill," private member's bill C-313, to prevent teenagers under 16 from having sex with someone older. (Even petting or "touching" counts.) Just how much older is still open to amendment. There is already a law preventing sexual exploitation of children by adults, but that's not enough for the Conservatives. They want the age of sexual consent raised from the current 14 to 16.

The Conservatives have the backing of the big U.S. anti-gay groups whose lobbyists were in Canada all summer and still have a pot full of money to spend.

The Life News Web site headlined last week "Amendments to Canadian law to prevent pederasty likely to be defeated by MPs Wednesday." Readers were told that "International human rights activists are keeping a close eye on tomorrow's vote but don't expect any progress as Canada's ruling elite is known to be lax, at best, on child protection."

Politicians know nothing attracts public attention like talking about teens and sex — always a winning combination.

Conservative MP Randy White was up on his feet in the Commons last Tuesday. That's the same Randy White who caused the party trouble with his "Well the heck with the courts, eh?" comment during last year's election campaign.

White warned that teens are being kidnapped in every major city in Canada and being forced to do abominable things under pain of gang violence.

"Does everybody know what a sex club is?" White asked. MPs who had been dozing in the near-empty chamber perked up. "Did he say sex club?" one asked.

 "A sex club is young girls doing tricks in high school," White continued, having gained their attention. "They do a trick and they get a cap or they get a joint laced with meth or whatever they are looking for.

"They do not see this as prostitution. This kind of stuff is exploitation."

But no White tirade would be complete without a run at the real culprits — our legal establishment.

"By the way, after the lawyer, who is paid by the known drug gang, gets through defending these thugs, that is when the plea bargaining starts, the deals are made, and the judge says that he knows the poor little boy kidnapped somebody and forced the person to deal drugs but had a bad upbringing," White continued.

Earlier White had told the Commons "everybody knows the time put in for crimes today is not what it should be."

"Yet we hear comments like: 'We have to use judicial discretion.' We have tried judicial discretion. It is not working. Just go to British Columbia please, and look at the record. I can refer to thousands of cases."

The Liberals, no fools they, have seen the Great Conservative Crime Crusade coming and are rushing ahead with a spate of their own anti-crime laws to head the Conservatives off at the pass.

Two bills are nicknamed the "Chuck Cadman Legacy Laws" in honour of the former Opposition MP who voted for them last spring and kept their government in office before he died of cancer.

One law cracks down on street racing by punks with cars in big cities, the other law is aimed at reducing car theft, both issues that Cadman cared about a great deal.

And then the Liberals are bringing in bill C-49 to provide harsher penalties for human trafficking. It answers to pressure from all sorts of groups — the International Labour Organiza-tion, UNICEF, as well as conservative elements in society.

A conviction for trafficking in humans (including recruiting, transporting, or lodging) could get you life; making money off human trafficking (which is aimed at snakeheads as well as ships' captains) could mean 10 years; and destroying somebody's passport or travel document to prevent escape is punishable by five years in jail. So two can play the law-and-order game, the Liberals have decided. It should make for a long, hot, angry autumn in the Commons.

Richard Cleroux is a freelance reporter and columnist on Parliament Hill.

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