Sunday, October 06, 2013

Conservatives: Punish, Punish, Punish

Canada's Harper Government once again revealed the ugly side of its views this past week.

First up, we have the Harper Government axing the pittance that inmates are paid for their labour while in prison.

The government began deducting the money from prisoners’ paycheques as part of a move to recover costs under the federal government’s Deficit Reduction Action Plan. The move was first announced in May 2012 by Public Safety Minister Vic Toews.
Until now, the top pay an inmate could earn was $6.90 a day, but only a small percentage of inmates received that. The average is $3 a day.
This is being done in the name of "cutting the deficit".  Sounds reasonable, doesn't it?  Well, let's take a look at how much is being cut, shall we?

According to correctional service figures, the move will save about $4 million a year out of the total budget of more than $2.6 billion.
So, the government is going to save a whole $4 million.  That is 0.15% of the corrections budget in savings.  That's right - less than 1% - the equivalent of a penny with respect to a hundred dollar bill.

The amount of money that is involved is peanuts.  This kind of "budget cutting" is simply mean-spirited.  While the government is trying to balance the books, with a projected deficit of $18.7 billion for this fiscal year, taking this money out of the prison system seems petty, and pound-foolish.  The amount prisoners get paid hasn't been changed since the current rate was set in 1980 - so it's not exactly like the prisoners are getting anything more than a bit of "mad money" to spend at the commissary once in a while.  If it helps keep the peace in the prisons - and after they are released, that's pretty damn cheap.

The second part of the nastiness of the Conservatives came in the form of Health Minister Rona Ambrose changing  the rules on a special, limited access drug program "so that drug addicts can't be prescribed heroin".

The ban comes a few weeks after Ambrose slammed her own department's decision to authorize some British Columbia doctors to prescribe heroin to 20 addicts for whom other treatments had failed. 
The doctors were conducting a research study looking at whether the opioid painkiller hydromorphone is as effective as heroin in treating long-term addicts. 
A previous study by the same researchers had concluded prescription heroin is a safe and effective treatment for the small group of addicts who did not benefit from conventional treatments such as methadone.  
 So, what the minister has done is take away a tool that is effective for the subset of addicts that do not benefit from conventional treatment.  Given that heroin addiction is a physiological addiction, there is a significant biological aspect to it which means that every addict is going to be somewhat different, and the ability of one addict to stop taking it tells us very little about whether or not someone else will be able to do the same thing.  This ham-handed change does nothing but punish those whose addiction to heroin is the most debilitating.

Then the minister came out with a whopper of an assertion to support her position:

In an interview with the CBC yesterday, Health Minister Rona Ambrose said there was “no evidence” to suggest heroin-assisted treatment was a safe and effective option. Actually, she used variations on the phrase seven times in the space of seven minutes. 
There is no evidence at this point that heroin—giving heroin to heroin addicts—is any way an effective treatment… 
As I said, there is no evidence that this is an effective, safe treatment… 
There is no evidence at this time, no clinical evidence… 
There is no clear evidence to suggest that this a safe treatment and it’s not a good idea for Health Canada, for Health Canada, to be supporting giving heroin to heroin addicts when there’s no scientific evidence that this is a safe treatment… 
There is no evidence at this time…
 As Maclean's writer Aaron Wherry points out, the minister is full of it:
Here is a 176-page report that was released last year by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction. It was prepared by researchers with the National Addiction Centre at King’s College in England. In addition to considering the history and context around heroin-assisted treatment, the authors review the results of six randomized controlled trials, conducted in Switzerland, the Netherlands, Spain, Germany, England and Canada respectively.
In short there is evidence - it just happens to contradict the Harper Government's assumptions.  That they would disregard it is no real surprise - since coming to power, Harper has done everything he can to remove meaningful data from policy making.  Whether that is axing funding to Status of Women related research funding, killing the long-form census, or turning NSERC research funding into "industrial product development",  Harper has moved consistently to hobble anything which would objectively challenge his assumptions.

The motto of this government might as well be "Let no fact challenge our assumptions".

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