Those words were written by Michael Ignatieff and included in his 2000 Massey Lectures and resulting book, The Rights Revolution. I bring them up, not with the intent of electioneering, but to contrast what is happening in Canada today.
From 1948's Universal Declaration of Human Rights onward, the history of the past half-century has been the struggle of colonial peoples for their freedom, the struggle of minorities of colour and women for full civil rights, and the struggle of aboriginal peoples to achieve self-government. Some of these struggles are etched in my memory.
I remember the television pictures of that small crowd of protesters who crossed Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, on their way to Montgomery to demand the right of black people to vote in the American South.
I remember the men of Attica prison, in upstate New York, who staged an uprising to protest their living conditions. The state police and national guard took the prison by force and forty-three prisoners died. Before the final assault, one of the prisoners said: "We have resolved, after long and bitter experience, that if we cannot live like men, then we are prepared to die like men."' From these examples, I learned that human beings value some things more than their own survival, and that rights are the language in which they commonly express the values they are willing to die for. (1)
If Ignatieff dared to suggest that he was inspired by prisoners fighting for their right to be deemed human beings, there would be no end to it. The Conservatives would waste time in the House, standing up one at a time, heckling and chanting "soft on crime", and the media would lap it up like the obedient lap dogs that many have become.
And yet the Attica prison riots and the prison riots that took place in Canada in the 1970's, should be something that we are discussing now. The Conservative government seems determined to replicate the days, when horrendous prison conditions ignited those riots.
And yet one of their talking points, used to justify the enormous expansion of prisons, is to keep us safe. The firm they have hired to design the new Super Prison in Kingston, is creating a facility in which inmates will be "controlled" every waking minute.
Animals kept in pens would eventually turn on their masters if they were treated that way.
According to CBC's David McKie:
Government spending on programs to help re-integrate inmates back into society once they've served their sentences is not keeping pace with spending to build more jail cells, CBC News has learned. According to a CBC News analysis of data from Correctional Services of Canada (CSC), the government is increasing spending on capital items such as new prison cells at double the rate of spending on programs designed to curb violent and deviant behaviour that landed people in prison in the first place.But as you see from Harper MP Peter Goldring (in his PR flyer paid for by the Canadian taxpayer), this government believes that society owes nothing to convicted criminals. Rehabilitation programs, like the enormously successful Prison Farm program, would be considered "perks".
They are creating unsafe conditions, not only to the staff at the prisons, but to the communities where the prisons are located.
Another talking point is "job creation" but that's nonsense. Read Justin Piche's blog, and he'll tell you what this is really about. Profit! Conservative friendly companies cashing in "on the misery of others".
They are creating 634 new beds in prison, while hospital beds are closing. Our crime rate is the lowest in our history while seniors are at their highest, and they're adding prison beds, at an enormous cost. We are facing a record deficit and debt, and this is how they choose to spend OUR money?
The Conservatives announced $150-million in new spending for prison beds Monday which will allow 634 new spots at jails in Quebec, the Prairies and Ontario. Although the Conservative “tough on crime” agenda has been popular with many voters, the additional $601-million in funding announced for new beds has the opposition fighting back. “The big change was when we started to see what the costs were,” Mark Holland, Liberal public safety critic, said yesterday. The total number of new beds planned for current prisons is 2,552 and The Correctional Service of Canada is working on plans for new penitentiaries. More beds are needed to house criminals who may not have received jail time before new mandatory-sentence laws.And none of this is going to benefit Canadian society, only shore up the neocon base and provide profits for those who don't need more money. Especially when it's more of OUR money, with nothing in exchange except a nightmare.
Canada’s $10 billion campaign to put more people in prison for longer periods of time will not make this country safer and may backfire by creating a larger criminal underclass, corrections critics warn. “I don’t think they’re looking at the evidence,” Anthony Doob, a leading Canadian criminologist, told the Star.Mad yet?
Despite historically low crime rates, Canada is expected to spend $9.5 billion to build new prisons and retrofit old ones — a figure that has Conservative politicians scrambling to justify the cost. Last week, Treasury Board Minister Stockwell Day suggested Canada needs more prisons because of an “increase in the amount of unreported crime.” The federal government later cited a six-year-old Statistics Canada survey it said supported his comments.
“The real problem is crime policy is usually reduced to a slogan,” Doob said. “You’re simply increasing the cost to Canadians with no benefit. In the long run, you’re ending up with other kinds of secondary costs. These people are going to get out of prison, they’re going to be less likely to find jobs and they’re going to be burdens on society in a variety of ways, including crime.”
1. The Rights Revolution: CBC Massey Lectures, By Michael Ignatieff, Anansi Books, 2000, ISBN: 978-0-88784-762-2, Pg. 3