When former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, met Conrad Black for the first time, he chewed her ear off about crime, with typical "hang 'em high" rhetoric.
She knew she had to be nice, because Black owned a large share of the media, but when he walked away she remarked to those around her, "compared to that guy, I'm a liberal"
So why is Conrad Black now going public, denouncing the 'Harper' government's new crime bills?
Maybe spending some time in the slammer has softened his stance, or maybe he has evolved, seeing that harsh punishments are not a deterrent. They only demoralize and provide incentives to continue to commit crimes.
In his book The Rights Revolution, Michael Ignatieff wrote:
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)Unfortunately, now that Ignatieff is a politician, his views would be deemed "soft on crime". However, we are not talking "crime", but the importance of human value and human rights.
Do we want our justice system to ignore those basic elements of a civil society?
Several years ago, the National Citizens Coalition, the group Stephen Harper has not only belonged to for more than three decades, but ran before becoming leader of the Alliance Party (now called the Conservative Party of Canada), also wrote of Canada's crime and how to deal with it.
One initiative they developed was called 'Turn in a Pusher'. (2) The title is self explanatory, but the belief that citizen warriors can end our drug problem, by simply going after the providers, is far too simplistic.
An ad hoc solution to a complex issue.
And that's exactly what these new crime bills represent. Justice is about more than crime and punishment, but the development of a system that places a high value on the human condition.
I can see right-wingers rolling their eyes, even as I type this, but let's put it another way. If you live in a prison town, as I do, would you prefer that those incarcerated are treated humanely, or be willing "to die like men" if they can't "live like men"?
Desperate people make desperate choices, and even if not inspired to riot, they will definitely be driven to escape, making communities less safe.
Unfortunately, you will never convince the 'base 'that keeps Stephen Harper in his job, of this, and Harper knows that. As a result, most of his decisions are made to appease that base, but what will this mean for Canada? What is all this appeasement doing to our foundation as a just and civil society?
Canada has been a leader in human rights and has always led by example:
Our legal culture has roots in the three great legal traditions of France, Britain, and America, and yet we do not carry the baggage of an imperial past or the menace of an imperial present. We have few enemies and many friends, and we have the problems to which the world needs answers. So it is not surprising that when the chief justice of our Supreme Court, Beverly McLachlin, visited a judicial training college during a recent trip to China, she found Chinese judges discussing Canadian Supreme Court cases."We have never been chest thumpers, but our unique rights culture has served as a beacon to other nations, struggling to create their own democracies.
When I visited the Constitutional Court of South Africa, I discovered that the judges there make frequent reference to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The originality of Canadian rights culture may be obvious to South Africans, but it is not obvious to Canadians. (3)
But what examples are we now setting? Even staunch right-winger New Gingrich, admits that heavy incarceration rates, have not worked in the United States. Yet the Harper government appears ready to repeat those mistakes.
And they are using the promise of "job creation", to gain our acceptance of these draconian new laws. There is something intrinsically evil about this notion. Surely we can create jobs, without having to trade away our souls in the bargain.
Canada's rights culture has created a society where crime rates have been falling for decades, and are now the lowest in our history. We are seen as an example of a justice system that seeks to rehabilitate, not simply incarcerate.
We need a government that is committed to restoring our proud tradition, not destroying it for political gain.
And that means voting out the 'Harper government'.
1. The Rights Revolution: CBC Massey Lectures, By Michael Ignatieff, Anansi Books, 2000, ISBN: 978-0-88784-762-2, Pg. 3
2. Loyal to the Core: Stephen Harper Me and the NCC, By: Gerry Nicholls, Freedom Press, 2009, ISBN: 978-0-9732757-8-0
3. Ignatieff, 2000, Pg. 13