Earlier this week I volunteered to liveblog a panel discussion called Thrown under the Omnibus, where a passionate collection of experts from the fields of law, harm reduction, prison, women, youth and victims’ rights gathered to discuss the implications of Bill C-10, the new crime bill currently being rushed through Parliament. This “tough on crime” legislation is a big reason why the Conservatives were elected — it was a major part of their platform. The average Canadian is for it — who wouldn’t want to keep their communities safe? Problem is, the actual meat of the bill will do anything but.
The event was hosted by the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, Canadian Harm Reduction Network, Toronto Harm Reduction Task Force, Prisoners with HIV/AIDS Support Action Network (PASAN), Community Justice Coalition (Human Rights) and others, with the support of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition.
The new bill will further criminalize addiction by introducing mandatory minimum sentences on drug offences — in some cases, growing marijuana plants will earn you a harsher sentence than a paedophile. A college student caught sharing a tab of ecstasy in a club will get an automatic two-year jail sentence. Context is important when determining punishment, but mandatory sentencing removes the all-important power of discretion from judges. As I learned from the panel, there are no provisions in the bill designed to help victims of crime, and parts seem to actually target aboriginal communities, which are already overrepresented in jails (1 in 5 federal prisoners are aboriginal).
The most frustrating part is that the government hasn’t produced any impact reports — how will this bill actually increase community safety? How much will it cost us? Who will it hurt? The same war on crime approach has been implemented without success in the U.S. (see: overcrowded, under serviced privately-owned super prisons). Check out my liveblog for some insight into how Bill C-1o will affect you. Make sure you listen to the audio recording I took of prisoners’ rights advocate Greg Simmons, who offers haunting insight into what prison does to a person. And we’re about to create a whole lot more prisoners.