The Safe Streets and Communities Act: Cruelty and Intolerance at its Worst

Author: 
Sheryl Jarvis

[People] fight for freedom, then they begin to accumulate laws to take it away from themselves. 
~Author Unknown

Law and Order

2010 closed with the 32nd consecutive drop in both the rate and the severity of crime across Canada (Statistics Canada, 2011). Despite this, Prime Minister Stephen Harper ‘s conservative government has reintroduced their much anticipated law and order agenda in the form of one colossal crime bill. Bill C10, the "Safe Streets and Communities Act" (Parliament of Canada, 2011) combines nine of the former Bills which had failed to pass into law due to opposition and repeated prorogues of parliament. Other criminal law bills which failed to pass previously were introduced separately. They focus on tightening both our online freedoms and Canadian immigration law.

 

Safe Streets and Communities: Who Wouldn’t Want That?

Despite how widespread the resistance to these law Bills has been, (Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy, Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, NORML Canada, Toronto Harm Reduction Task Force, etc) has unfortunately been futile. There is no bridging the gap between conservative ideology and the truth behind the causes of community harm and the realities of how to address it. The causes of course are poverty, unemployment, inequality and trauma. Addressing them requires thoughtfulness and a commitment to evidence-based practices which reflect a human rights framework.

Precisely because Bill C10 ignores evidence and human rights, all manner of people have resisted it, from the opposition parties to experts in the field. These include the 37,000 members of the Canadian Bar Association, 563 doctors who signed the Urban Health Research Initiative’s letter opposing Bill S10, and thousands of social workers, healthcare providers, teachers, clergy, and regular citizens who recognize the hyperbole for what it is, partisan ideology, greed, and fear.

 

Ideology and Greed

Harper's political base doesn’t care much about sound statistics and proven best practices. Not if these are competing with the satisfaction obtained through retribution and the all mighty dollar. The hang ‘em high approach has been used successfully in the past. The Harris government in Ontario in the 90’s made "war on the poor" by demonizing us (no more free rides for these lazy, drug-addicted, criminals) while simultaneously cutting the services and welfare rates which could prevent many from becoming addicted and criminalized in the first place. Harris’ ability to dehumanize and criminalize the poor was a successful tactic used to elevate his political popularity. It was successful because he was seen by many to be demanding nothing more than the revered traits of self-sufficiency and hard work, held dear by many Canadians, and often used as a measure of an individual’s worth and respectability. However its important to remember that the majority of the poor, including those on social assistance would rather not be in that situation. And most often are working hard to change it.

 

Neo-Conservative Agenda = Increased Crime and Less Safety

Stephen Harper has claimed that Canadians are unsafe and that only by restricting our freedoms further will we achieve safety. In fact what the Harper conservatives will likely achieve is not increased safety but an increase in crime. As our freedoms are increasingly made illegal, and social programs which stave off desperation are defunded, our crime rates will soar, thus justifying the prison building boom and tough on crime rhetoric. The people of the USA have learned this the hard way. Decades of "tough on crime", "war on drugs" ideology translated into programs of mass incarceration. Communities of colour and those living on low incomes have been impacted most harshly as a result. Studies found that those communities who were most impacted, suffered increasing, as opposed to decreasing rates of "crime". It was found that by removing income contributing adults from already struggling households increased desperation and provided even fewer choices within those homes and throughout those communities. People were forced more often to make choices between seeing their children do without necessities or engaging in that which we refer to as "crime" in order to provide for them. (Hagan and Petty. 2002). These factors add up to ever increasing rates of "crime" in communities which are heavily impacted by criminalization and imprisonment.

If criminalizing and incarcerating people are known to make us less safe than why are the conservatives doing it?

Those warehoused under the new conservative regime will become the raw material for a profitable industry popular in the U.S., privatized, for profit prisons. Crime must be increased to keep the bodies flowing on a pay per capita basis. Then once locked up, those bodies can be transformed into even more profit in the form of prisoner labour. Free labour will be sold to 3rd parties at discounted and very profitable rates. Corporations able to win prison contracts will have a serious one-up on the competition. Prisoners are typically paid between $0 and $4.75 per day. (Coalition for Prisoner's Rights Newsletter, 2011)

 

The History of Privatized Prisons in Canada

For profit prisons were attempted briefly by the Harris government in the form of a comparison experiment between two of the then newly constructed super-jails. These new jails were devised by the Harris government to warehouse human beings as sparingly as possible. (Roslin, A.,2007) The Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay was owned and operated by the government of Ontario while the contract to operate the Central North Correctional Centre in Penetanguishene was awarded to a private US firm called the Management and Training Corporation. While the US contractor was indeed able to save the province money on the front end, the privately run prison had inferior security, health care, and increased repeat offender rates. The outcomes were so poor that operation of the private prison was transferred back to the state.

 

Neo-Conservative Fear

Privatization of prisons and expansion of the so-called law and order agenda is but one small piece of a much larger picture. The neo-conservative agenda has long been to privatize public resources and slash social services, while increasing social control and providing complete freedom for corporations. Because there are substantial disadvantages to most of us in these methods and because of the potential for resistance on the grandest of scales, the neo-conservatives fear us – we the true majority. Because of this we are seeing greater restrictions to civil freedoms including worker rights, the right to dissent and a focus on law and order, accompanied by prison expansion on a scale unprecedented in Canadian history.

 

More Canadians Criminalized

One in ten Canadians currently has a criminal record. (Canadian Criminal Justice Association, 2010). The majority of them suffer the consequent and ongoing emotional, social and financial impacts of this record. This affects not just them, but also their families. As more Canadians are criminalized and experience encroachments on freedoms, as well as expanded cuts to social services, the more desperate and angry they will become and consequently (we can hope), the more ready they will be to resist. We should not have to go through this.

To ensure plans for fortune and greed are not thwarted, social control must be continuously ramped up. Judicial and prison expansion agendas, accompanied by deregulation ensure that profits through prison privatization are freer to flow. Prison privatization is attractive to corporations because they are able to attain certain freedoms they could only dream of elsewhere in "free" society. Prisoners often don’t have to be paid, nor are they permitted to form unions, and further many are restricted politically, forbidden to vote. These are gifts to those who wish to see capitalism entirely unrestrained by "irritating" controls like progressive taxation, good wages, and human rights.

 

Capitalism at Work

Firms which win direct prison contracts to build and run the prisons are not the only ones likely to profit from mass criminalization. Corporations also bid on service and supply contracts, which can and in some cases already do include inmate canteens, food, and telephone services, healthcare, and for profit substance abuse programs (Stark Raven News, 2004).

Our government (like most governments) is highly adept in the art of "spin". The major media outlets are owned and operated by just a few large corporations in Canada, which greatly restricts the diversity of news we receive. These news conglomerates are often but one piece of a much larger pie. They are mostly owned by huge multinationals and used by their owners to influence public opinion in their own favour. They have been allowed to gain far too much political clout through unrestrained growth and expansion, sometimes becoming so large and influential that our own governments become cowed.

 

Independent and Alternative News Media

It becomes apparent then that as individuals we must seek out independent sources of news and information. We must question every step our governments take, whether that is selling off public assets, locking up those with addictions, or allowing warrant-less searches into our online activities. We should also ask ourselves who stands to benefit from a particular initiative and how, as well as who is most likely to speak out against the initiative and why.

Most of all we must fight our tendency towards complacency. We can never assume that new laws or greater restrictions (on privacy. for example) won’t affect us personally. Insisting that intrusions into our personal sphere are OK because as law abiding citizens we have nothing to hide is rather short sighted. Where do these encroachments end? How far can we allow our government and police forces to expand into the private realms of others before we too are impacted? The rights we now enjoy freely could suddenly be taken away or made illegal. New invasions on our freedoms when not challenged have a way of gradually intensifying until it becomes clear that there are no freedoms left.

 

Alternatives to Restrictive Law and Order Approaches

Alternatives to Prison (online book)
http://www.prisonpolicy.org/scans/instead_of_prisons/

Defending Justice – How to Organize Around Implementing Alternatives to Incarceration
http://www.defendingjustice.org/getstarted/getstartedmain.html

 

Sheryl Jarvis is a single parent to two daughters, 15 and 21. Sheryl has first hand knowledge of the issues surrounding problematic drug use and imprisonment, having survived both. She is a white, woman with a history entrenched in poverty and violence. Sheryl recently graduated from George Brown College's Assaulted Women's and Children's Counsellor/Advocate program. She continues to advocate for harm reduction and prisoner rights through community organizing, committee work, and critical writing about social justice issues.

The Oppressive Arm of the Canadian State (Author’s Blog – sheryl jarvis)
http://prisonstatecanada.blogspot.com/

 

References

Brennan. S.; Dauvergne, M., (2010). Police-reported crime statistics in Canada, 2010. Statistics Canada. Juristat. Retrieved from: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/110721/dq110721b-eng.htm

Canadian Criminal Justice Association, (2010). Position Paper: C-23 An Act to Amend the Criminal Records Act. Retrieved from: http://www.ccja-acjp.ca/en/c23en.html

Coalition for Prisoner's Rights., (2011). The Reinvention of Slavery. Coalition for Prisoner's Rights Newsletter. Vol. 35-g, 8. Retrieved on Nov. 25 from: http://www.realcostofprisons.org/materials/CPR_Newsletter_August_2011.pdf

Hagan and Petty. (2002). Returning Captives of the American War on Drugs: Issues of Community and Family Reentry. Families Left Behind: The Hidden Costs of Incarceration and Re-entry.

Parliament of Canada. (2011). Bill C-10. The Safe Streets and Communities Act. Retrieved from: http://www.parl.gc.ca/About/Parliament/LegislativeSummaries/bills_ls.asp?lang=E&ls=c10&Parl=39&Ses=1&source=library_prb

Roslin, A., (2007). Stephen Harper opens door to prison privatization. Retrieved from: http://www.straight.com/article-119340/stephen-harper-opens-door-to-prison-privatization

Stark Raven News, (2004). Privatization of Property Management of BC Prisons. Retrieved from: http://www.prisonjustice.ca/starkravenarticles/sr030504_2.html


Comments

R Russell Reiter
September 7, 2012 - 7:17am

This decision has formalised a part of the obscure agenda of the safe streets and communities act. It allows for private citizens, who lack appropriate training in the humane enforcement of law, to restrain and detain people for the perception of a crime against property. The number of times in recent years, I've been told I have to move from property, by people who haven't the authority to do so is staggering. This all started happening in this ward after the formation of Business Improvement Associations 's in this area around 2006. God save us all from these non-government organizations and the private vigilantes they employ to move people along on the boulevards of our city.