Harper gets tough on crime

On Sept. 20, the Conservative government released its “Tough on Crimes” omnibus bill. I found the entire experience quite amusing, really. No, I didn’t go down to Brampton to watch justice minister Nicholson deliver his speech, nor did I live-stream it. Rather, I set my Google search settings to “most recent,” typed “Conservative tough on crime bill” into the search bar and repeatedly hit refresh.

Oh, how the comments flew! Journalists from across the country immediately protested, claiming ideological oppression. However, as I read this omnibus bill, I began to gain respect and admiration for it. Though I feel the bill is not flawless, it does raise a valid point. Officially titled the Tackling Violent Crimes Act, the bill introduces a long-needed backbone into the current wishy-washy Canadian legal system. Refreshingly, this bill was written with victims in mind.

No one could argue that the current legal system raises a few questions. Why were two Mississauga teens required to serve a combined total of seven years in prison for cold-heartedly drowning their mother in the bathtub back in 2003?

Why was a 30-year-old man, convicted last week of dangerous driving causing the death of two Brampton women, given a house arrest where he can still drive to and from work? Why was Randal Hopley, with multiple child molestation convictions, able to snatch little Kienan Hebert out of his house?

Granted, these cases are all high-profile media stories but they serve to prove a point. They illustrate that we are dealing with a legal system which is plagued by inconsistency, inconsistency which has, in turn, created more victims.

This vicious cycle is what the current government has vowed to change.

Let’s take a good look at the bigger picture before jumping in with two feet. As Bob Rae, interim leader of the Liberal party, is so eager to point out, the Canadian crime rate has been decreasing for the past few years. Fantastic. I won’t argue the statistic, but to me that’s like saying, “I just raised my school grade from an ‘F’ to a ‘C.’ I might as well stop trying now.”

Canada cannot simply sit back and be content with our 2.1 million reported crimes a year. It has been said that there is a negative correlation between economic hardship and criminal activity. The colourful graphs from Statistics
Canada seem to indicate that as personal income decreases, the rate of crimes increase. As the stock markets once again tumble and cries of a recession are renewed, this would seem like a foolhardy time to take a passive stance on crime.

Even with the disturbing number of crimes still being committed in Canada, one can still question whether an active stance toward crime is possible. This new omnibus bill is one that claims to be “tough on crime,” but what does such a deliciously vague term entail?

The eight acts that comprise this omnibus crime bill take wholesome steps toward achieving a tougher and more efficient stance on crime, with provisions including: minimum sentences on those convicted of sexual assault on a child under the age of 16, tougher punishment for those involved in drug-related activities, particularly if those activities are gang-related, adult-length sentences for youth convicted under a set list of serious crimes, removal of the right to house arrest for those convicted of serious and violent crimes, enshrining the victim’s right to take part in parole hearings, eliminating the ability of those convicted of sexually abusing children to be granted pardon, allowing the minister of public safety more leeway to deny Canadians convicted of serious crimes abroad to transfer back to Canadian soil, giving victims of terrorism the ability to sue alleged perpetrators for loss and damage within a certain time frame and finally, allowing immigration officers to refuse work permits to foreign nationals, when it is deemed that worker would be at high risk of “humiliating and degrading treatment.”

All in all, do I think this bill is perfect? By no means. As with most critics, my primary concern lies in the cost of implementation, a cost that has not yet been revealed. The safety of society’s most vulnerable, particularly young children, is not something that I feel we should put a price tag on, yet Canada’s current economic situation cannot be ignored.

A second, though not as pressing, issue I take towards this bill is the inclusion of the drug activity act.

Drug activity should not be ignored, but placing it in conjunction with a series of bills focusing heavily on sexual assault against children seems to cheapen the tremendously serious nature of the latter.

Nonetheless, I feel that this bill has accomplished what it set out to do.
It tells the world that our government is willing to step up to the plate and take a firm stance to protect the victims of Canada.

For that, the Conservative government should be commended.