Thursday, February 26, 2009

More "Get Tough On Crime" Nonsense

Innovative problem solving this isn't. When faced with a need to confront a growing gang problem, Harper reaches into the bag of standard conservative dogma and pulls out the hoary old saw about "getting tough on crime".

"Drugs are an intimate part of what gangs and organized crime are involved with in this country. We recognize they go hand in hand," he said.

According to reports, the bills will seek to make any gang-related homicide a first-degree murder charge and attach mandatory sentences for serious drug crimes.

Good luck with that. While we can mentally associate certain murders with gang activity, proving that association in a court of law is going to be a might bit more difficult. First of all, proving that someone is a member of a criminal gang is difficult enough. Laws in Canada in the past have tried to penalize members of "biker gangs" like the Hell's Angels. They have only met with limited success - in part because it's extremely difficult to prove that someone is a member of such an organization. The second problem becomes one of demonstrating that the motive for a killing was in fact gang related. The reason more First Degree murder charges aren't laid in the first place is the raw difficulty in establishing the perpetrator's motives adequately in court.

As for "mandatory minimum sentences" for whatever the Conservatives call a "serious drug crime", that's just plain bad policy. Throwing people in jail for ever increasing lengths of time is unlikely to have any significant impact on these youthful fools. The majority of what the police will pick up are the twenty-somethings who are running around on the street selling the stuff. At that age, they don't typically think overly clearly, and if they do think, it tends to be along the lines of "I'm invincible" - a ten or even twenty year sentence attached to dealing a bit of dope isn't going to deter them.

Worse, it does nothing to enable our law enforcement officials to go after the leaders of these organizations. The string pullers who keep themselves just far enough removed from the day to day violence of their "businesses" that they are difficult to charge with anything significantly criminal. (Remember, Al Capone didn't go to prison for murder or anything else - he was imprisoned for tax evasion. Thugs are a dime a dozen - and they are just that - thugs. They aren't the brains of the operation, nor is incarcerating all of them going to get rid of the gang problem.

I'll wait and see what they actually table in the House of Commons, but I'm guessing that it will be fundamentally pointless, as it will not address the root problems that give gangs the environment in which they operate, nor will these laws provide additional tools to law enforcement to go after the real problem.

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