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Bill C-15: Stupid policy, shrewd strategy

The Conservatives are trying to take the war on drug users to another level with Bill C-15, which proposes mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses.

This Bill, if passed into law, will strip judges of their discretion in sentencing Canadians convicted of drug offenses. Rather than being allowed to take all factors into consideration before making a sentencing decision, judges will have no choice but to impose prescribed sentences. This will result in a sudden and ongoing surge of new prisoners, leaving us with no choice but to construct more prisons to accommodate them all, at great expense to ourselves.

The crazy thing about us adopting this approach to drugs is that we already know it will fail. The United States brought in mandatory minimum sentences in the mid-80s. They continue to spend a fortune on it, and the evidence continues to show it doesn’t work. One of every hundred Americans is now incarcerated in prison or jail, and one in 33 is under some form of correctional control such as probation or parole. A huge proportion of incarcerated Americans are there for using drugs, including marijuana. The US spends more on corrections than any other industrialized country, and what does it have to show for it? More incarcerated citizens than any other industrialized country in the world. More children growing up with incarcerated parents. High crime rates. No reduction in drug use.

The United States has shown us, by example, that mandatory minimum sentences, as a strategy for dealing with drug use, is an extremely expensive unmitigated failure. And that’s exactly what Harper’s Conservatives are trying to force us to emulate.

It costs between $88,000 and $250,000 to keep someone in prison for a year in Canada. And that doesn’t even begin to look at the hidden costs, such as job loss, foregone income taxes, family breakdown and child welfare costs.

Judges already have ample power to incarcerate drug offenders when circumstances warrant it. We don’t need legislation that strips them of their discretion and forces them to imprison people, regardless of circumstances. Such legislation would be regressive, ineffective, expensive and driven by conservative ideology rather than evidence.

So the obvious question is “Why are the Conservatives trying to get Bill C-15 passed, then, if it’s doomed to fail and is going to cost a lot of money?”

It’s not because they’re stupid; It’s because they think we are. The Conservatives like things that can be reduced to extremely simple, easily digestible slogans that will resonate with people who don’t think. Like this: War on Drugs. Tough on Crime. Zero Tolerance. They’re going for the votes of non-thinking Canadians, and they’re counting on them being the majority of voters. They might be right; I hope not.

It’s not too late to stop Bill C-15. Contact your MP. Contact these Senators:

David Angus
George Baker
Tommy Banks
Larry Campbell
Joan Fraser
Serge Joyal
Lorna Milne
Pierre Claude Nolin
Jean-Claude Rivest
John Wallace
Charlie Watt

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