Cameron Wigmore, Green Party Member: Harper’s “war on drugs” regressive and irresponsible: Green Party

October 13, 2007

Harper’s “war on drugs” regressive and irresponsible: Green Party

Harper’s “war on drugs” regressive and irresponsible: Green Party

OTTAWA – The Green Party today denounced Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s proposed drug strategy as an ideologically-driven step in the wrong direction and ignorant of evidence-based research. Last week, Mr. Harper announced his intent to spend $64 million in a war on drugs, focusing on punishment and enforcement – not prevention.

“Mr. Harper is far too eager to sign Canada on to a Bush-style war on drugs that has spent billions and achieved nothing,” said Green Party leader Elizabeth May. “An overwhelming body of evidence supports the notion that an effective drug strategy would focus on prevention, treatment facilities and harm reduction programs.

“Mr. Harper preaches prevention, yet spends many times the funds allocated to prevention on enforcing antiquated drug laws and punishing drug users. This approach is akin to simply burning tax dollars and is severely damaging to society. Instead of listening to the facts, Mr. Harper is trying to appear tough on crime in a desperate attempt to grab votes.”

Jared Giesbrecht, Justice Critic for the Green Party, added that the 2002 Senate Special Committee on Drugs and examples from European countries have led the Green Party to the conclusion that it is time to legalize the adult use of marijuana, developing a taxation rate for the substance similar to that of tobacco.

“Mr. Harper’s plan to impose tougher penalties on users of marijuana and other drugs is a misguided approach. Substance abuse is a medical issue, not a criminal issue. Simply spending more tax dollars on drug law enforcement is not the answer. Canadians want to see a comprehensive anti-drug strategy that gets to the root of the problem, not Harper’s patch-work agenda that seeks the quick fix.”

Mr. Giesbrecht added that the Green Party would fund and expand safe injection sites, like the Insite clinic in Vancouver, that are proven to save lives.


Cameron W said...

BC residents support liscence extension for Insite - Vancouvers supervised injection site (PDF)

Cameron W said...

"Crime and Partisanship" real focus of Harper's omnibus bill, says Green Party

OTTAWA – The Green Party has condemned Prime Minister Stephen Harper's refusal to allow amendments to the minority Conservative government's omnibus crime bill.

"It is shameful that Mr. Harper is using serious concerns about violent crime and the need for victim support to score political points for his party," Green Party leader Elizabeth May said today. "Violent crime and the need for criminal justice reform deserve level-headed and reasoned analysis and should not be construed as a partisan issue or pushed through Parliament in an omnibus bill."

The Green Party's recently released policy document, Vision Green, proposes a thorough and long-term approach to criminal justice reform, focusing on crime prevention by targeting poverty, aboriginal issues and at-risk youth.

"The measures proposed in Harper's crime bill would make changes in a number of areas and should be examined independently on their merits," said Green Party justice critic Jared Giesbrecht. "For example, it is important to allow debate on mandatory minimum sentencing, which ties the hands of trial judges. In the US, this has only led to more incarceration not less crime."

Recent figures from Statistics Canada show that violent crime in Canada is declining. The homicide rate was at a 35-year low in 2003 and shooting deaths declined last year.

"Justice cannot stand apart from our social context," said Giesbrecht. "We must work together to address the underlying causes of crime such as poverty and inequality. The Green Party opposes scare-mongering tactics in Parliament and is committed to a balanced approach that ensures serious crimes are dealt with fairly with proportionate sanctions."

The Green Party's Vision Green includes a commitment to promote the use of restorative justice programs for first-time non-violent offenders, in which wrongdoers make reparation to victims and their community. The Greens also pledge to set up task forces to address the treatment of aboriginals in the Canadian justice system.

Cameron W said...

Harper’s crime bill out of step with public opinion

The Green Party today drew attention to a recent study from the Department of Justice showing that Canadians strongly support a focus on restorative justice and recognize the importance of judicial discretion in sentencing.

“This study is very significant for two reasons,” said Green Party leader Elizabeth May. “It shows that Harper’s ‘tough on crime’ agenda is a superficial attempt to play on public fears, through political manipulation. The study reveals that this government is out of step with public opinion.”

A Department of Justice study from early this year shows that Canadians’ attitudes concerning the purposes of sentencing strongly support restorative sentencing objectives that promote a sense of responsibility in the offender and secure amends for the victims of crime. This study also notes that Canadians have limited support for mandatory sentencing and would like to ensure that trial judges retain a degree of discretion which would allow them to tailor sentences to the individual characteristics of the offenders and the offences.

“As this report makes clear, Harper’s interpretation of public opinion in this area is sadly lacking and his omnibus crime bill is misfocused,” said Green Party justice critic Jared Giesbrecht. “Public support for sentencing that promotes a closer relationship between courts and community values is growing. Canadians are increasingly looking for sentencing that places a greater emphasis on victims’ needs rather than simply punishing the offender.”

The Green Party recently released Vision Green, a policy statement that places the focus of criminal justice on increasing funding for restorative justice programs for first time non-violent offenders. The party’s goal is to ensure that wrongdoers make reparation to victims and are accountable to their community.

“Currently, many offenders are released with little or no community support,” said Mr. Giesbrecht. “It is time for the federal government to ensure that there is stable, long-term funding in place for Victim-Offender Mediation and programs that hold offenders accountable upon release. This is one of the most effective ways to make sure that offenders do not enter into re-offending cycles and ensure that crime rates across Canada are reduced.”

Highlights from the Department of Justice’s Report:
• “Politicians’ interpretation of public opinion in this area may be erroneous; public support for mandatory sentencing may be not as strong as many suppose. Contrary evidence can be found in a poll conducted in the United States in 1999, which found that more than half of the sample stated that they would be more likely to vote for a politician who advocated increasing judicial discretion – the antithesis to mandatory sentencing….” “Public Attitudes to Sentencing in Canada: Exploring Recent Findings” (2007) 49 Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice 75 at 77.

• “Some politicians appear to respond to a category of offending – serious gun crime – and have no experience with the wide diversity of offences and offenders that appear for sentencing in criminal courts across the country. This is why it makes little sense for legislators to intervene with such inflexible and blunt sentencing tools as a statutory mandatory minimum at this level in the sentencing process.” “Public Attitudes to Sentencing in Canada: Exploring Recent Findings” (2007) 49 Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice 75 at 80.

• “It will be recalled that the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the seven-year minimum sentence of imprisonment for drug trafficking in R. v. Smith (1987). This sentence was originally legislated to ensure that large-scale traffickers received a severe penalty and to thereby promote general deterrence. In practice, most of the offenders affected by this mandatory sentence were drug couriers, often young people on vacation in the Caribbean. The penal net had caught the wrong fish. This failure on the part of the legislation to address the problem for which the mandatory penalty was conceived was one of the reasons why the Court ruled that the mandatory sentence was unconstitutional, as it violated s. 12 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.” “Public Attitudes to Sentencing in Canada: Exploring Recent Findings” (2007) 49 Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice 75 at 80, 81.

• “[T]he highest level of support emerged for the two restorative sentencing objectives, namely promoting a sense of responsibility in the offender and making offenders repair the harm caused by the offence. Fully 84% of the sample rated the first objective as ‘very important,’ while approximately two-thirds (66%) assigned this rating to the reparative purpose. The traditional (and more punitive) sentencing objectives of denunciation and incapacitation were significantly less likely to be rated as ‘very important.’ “Public Attitudes to Sentencing in Canada: Exploring Recent Findings” (2007) 49 Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice 75 at 86, 87.

• “These findings suggest that Canadian attitudes toward the purposes of sentencing offenders may well have evolved away from a punitive and toward a restorative approach to sentencing. If this were the case, it would be consistent with public opinion findings from other countries, which demonstrate strong support for restorative or victim-related sentencing goals (see Roberts and Hough 2005 for a review). Further evidence to support this hypothesis comes from two public-opinion polls that focused specifically on the issue of restorative justice in 2001 and 2004. These surveys found that more than four out of five respondents across Canada were in favour of restorative justice; only 13% were opposed to this concept of justice (Environics Canada 2004; Roberts and Stalans 2004).” “Public Attitudes to Sentencing in Canada: Exploring Recent Findings” (2007) 49 Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice 75 at 87, 88.