Op-Ed: Harper’s “tough on crime” bill, tougher on taxpayers

The Harper government is currently trying to pass Bill S-10[1] also known as the Penalties for Organized Crime Act which would make amendments to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. With Bill S-10 the Conservatives want to impose a minimum sentence of six months up to two years on certain crimes which currently have no minimum sentence when certain ‘aggravating’ factors apply. The bill is being met with a lot of opposition, and for good reason. That’s because minimum sentencing bills such as these don’t work or make much sense. They don’t make legal sense because they don’t act as the deterrents that they’re suppose to be, and they don’t make fiscal sense because they end up costing taxpayers millions of dollars with no visible benefit to show for it. 

Why the bill doesn’t make much legal sense

The bill which the Harper government is trying to implement is neither novel nor unique. In fact critics of the bill argue that this kind of legislation has been implemented elsewhere and failed. One such group is comprised of more than 500 health care professionals who have written a letter to Ottawa opposing the bill[2]. In the letter, the health care professionals explain how such legislation is ineffective as proven in US research where “several states in the US, such as New York, Michigan, Massachusetts and Connecticut, are now repealing and moving away from costly and ineffective mandatory minimum sentencing legislation…” The letter goes on to point out that rather than helping society, previous research on minimum sentence bills shows that such legislation is actually harmful to society, especially to youth and aboriginal persons who are disproportionately targeted by bill.

In fact our own Department of Justice has a report called “Mandatory Minimum Penalties: Their Effects on Crime, Sentencing Disparities, and Justice System Expenditures”[3] where under the section of mandatory offences for drug offences the report concludes that “MMS do not appear to influence drug consumption or drug-related crime in any measurable way. A variety of research methods concludes that treatment-based approaches are more cost effective than lengthy prison terms.”[4] The report cites many research studies conducted internationally which all show the ineffectiveness of mandatory minimum sentencing as they end up imprisoning low level drug dealers who are non-violent and easily replaceable by the drug gangs, while the hardcore drug dealers don’t feel the effects of the legislation as they often use information they have related to other crimes as leverage for plea bargaining.

Why the bill doesn’t make economic sense

The view in the Department of Justice report is being echoed by most critics of the bill, including a coalition of churches known as The Church Council on Justice and Corrections. In a letter to Harper, the president of the CCJC, Laurent Champagne wrote: “Your policy is applying a costly prison response to people involved in the courts who are non-violent offenders, or to repeat offenders who are mentally ill and/or addicted, the majority of whom are not classified as high risk.”[5] On their website the CCJC has a “prison facts” page which claims the annual average cost of keeping an inmate incarcerated in a federal prison in 2008/09 to be $101666. Many critics predict that the bill will have a large increase the number of inmates in our prison system, where the NDP estimate that the bill will increase the number of inmates in our federal and provincial prisons by 4000.[6] Although the Harper government refuses to tell the public the cost of bill by claiming cabinet confidentiality[7], the government’s actions speaks loud enough to overcome its silence. The commissioner for Correctional Service Canada, Don Head has mentioned that his department plans to hire 5000 new employees in light of the bill.[8]

The bill has received a lot of political opposition from the NDP as well as Liberals, where Liberal MP Mark Holland explains that the bill fails to distinguish between a college student who’s growing six marijuana plants and the Hells Angels growing over 200. “This mandatory minimum makes it blind to that. This is going to absolutely pack our prisons with young people making small errors. It’s going to bankrupt us.”[9] Looking at the bill itself we find that Bill S-10[10] is modeled similarly to many of the mandatory minimum sentence legislation that’s found in the US, which ironically enough are being repealed because of their cost and ineffectiveness. The evidence and opposition is quite clear, such a Bill not only hurts small vulnerable offenders who are much better off with other correctional solutions, but it also hurts taxpayers in costing them a lot of money for no benefit. Unfortunately in the midst of all the evidence to the contrary, the Harper government seems set on being ‘tough on crime’ and even tougher on the taxpayers.


[1] http://www2.parl.gc.ca/Sites/LOP/LegislativeSummaries/Bills_ls.asp?lang=E&ls=s10&source=library_prb&Parl=40&Ses=3

[2] http://uhri.cfenet.ubc.ca/content/view/88

[3] http://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/pi/rs/rep-rap/2002/rr02_1/toc-tdm.html

[4] http://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/pi/rs/rep-rap/2002/rr02_1/p5_3.html

[5] http://ccjc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/CCJC-letter-to-PM-re-prison-building_Dec-2010.pdf

[6] http://www.thehilltimes.ca/dailyupdate/view/78

[7] http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/fight-over-cost-of-tory-crime-bills-sets-up-commons-confrontation/article1904167/

[8] Ibid.

[9] Supra note 6.

[10] Supra note 1.

4 Comments on "Op-Ed: Harper’s “tough on crime” bill, tougher on taxpayers"

  1. Rena Fowler | 17/04/2011 at 6:55 am |

    I would like to see minimums set for serious crime, but 2 bit marijuana dealers would not be high on my list. While I am not for legalization of marijuana, per say, I do feel that the pursuit of marijuana legislation has been a red herring,perpetrated initially by some fanatic in the US, with loads of hype & misinformation, and it costs us a fortune. literally.
    It has done for organized crime here what prohibition did in the US… Big bucks to be had !!

  2. As I see it Substance use is a dietary problem. Anything we put in our bodies is part of our diet, whether it be air, food, water or pot. Curing drug use by punishment in a prison is about as effective as curing obesity by punishing people in prison.
    drug use is fueled by demand, not supply. You can’t force people to stop wanting the things that they like. People will stop when they stop wanting. That was my story. Pot, smokes, booze, crappy food. I lost the desire for that stuff. Fact is anyone can straighten out, stop using, loose weight and get fit, (given the proper instruction and help). It happens ALL the TIME.
    The message that will help people with their addictions must have depth and meaning, it must come from a place of understanding. Harper neither understands the problem, let alone come close to having a solution.

  3. TheTiredBard | 16/05/2011 at 5:10 pm |

    Marijuana use is completely healthy according to my Doctor. Any sort of crime that exists around it happens because it is made illegal and difficult to get. There is also plenty of evidence that smoking pot is actually healthy for some people. But most can’t get legal access to it.

    So why spend tax payers dollars on something that doesn’t work, and doesn’t even prevent people from doing something that they enjoy and is non harmful. Yet cigarette companies continue to make millions.

    Harper ran on being financially responsible. How can you when you don’t even have your facts right. And nor has he shown any interest in listening to anybody who tells him otherwise. And with him winning his Majority I feel Canada will start joining the U.S soon in the financial catacombs.

  4. A fictitious press conference that will never happen…… on crime and crime bills…….with the Harper government.

    “Larry Elford here for investor advocates…….A couple of questions Mr. Harper……..ahh, the extensive work you are doing towards fighting blue collar crime and building new prisons is, uuum, surprising, since this type of crime is in decline, as our population ages. Two questions please”:

    “In the recent sub prime mortgage collapse, $32 billion of sub prime mortgage investments were frozen, collapsed and had to be bailed out by taxpayers and others in Canada. If we accept Justice Canada stats that the average property crime is about $5000 in value, then this mega crime of selling known toxic investments did damage in Canada equal to about 6 million property crimes. There was not a single prosecution in this matter.

    Question, “Mr. Harper, will there be any focus on attempts to prosecute financial mega criminals, as there seem to be as much or more damage done by them, than by the rest of the crooks in the country?”

    “Following up on the Harper focus on blue collar crime in Bill C21, An Act to amend the Criminal Code sentencing for fraud, financial fraudsters who deal in public markets (like stocks, bonds etc) were allowed to “exempt” themselves from the penalties of this law. This appears to give a free ride around this law to fraudsters from bay Street”. (see http://www.investoradvocates.ca/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=188&p=3072&hilit=c21#p3071 )

    Question, “Mr. Harper, is there a two tier system of justice, one for the poor and middle class, and a less onerous system for the rich or well connected, when greater economic damage appears to be done by our top financial players, with zero consequences and your government continues to focus entirely on small time crime?”

    (1.3 mil property crimes in Canada, source http://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/pi/rs/rep-rap/2005/rr05_4/rr05_4.pdf )

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