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Dear Ryan: Public trust and the omnibus crime bill

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Ryan Leef
Member of Parliament for Yukon

Open Letter #5 - September 2011

Dear Ryan,

You missed a lively evening at Fair Vote Yukon's Annual General Meeting on September 7th. We were joined by Katimavik youth who were interested in electoral reform and alternative electoral systems. While discussing the concept of the Single Transferable Vote, one youth reversed the idea by mistake. "First you mark the ballot with the candidate you distrust the most, then the second most objectionable candidate and so on." A bright teenager had accidentally invented an entirely new electoral system.

As a colleague observed, the newly christened Survivor Electoral System would definitely improve voter turn out. Even Dave Brekke felt that the Survivor Electoral System was a great improvement on First Past the Post although he insisted that his own model for Mixed Member Preferential Proportional was still the most representational.

Of the 60 per cent of voters who supported the opposition in the last election, it is possible that many believe Stephen Harper and the Conservatives Party to be unworthy of trust. Had we had The Survivor Electoral System, Canadians might now have a very different government; perhaps humbler, perhaps truly dedicated to transparency and accountability.

The issue of public trust brings me to the subject of this, my fifth letter; the omnibus crime bill.

Senator Dan Lang told the Whitehorse Daily Star this spring that the election was fought over the budget. According to the Hansard, the government fell on a charge of contempt of Parliament which was due to the Conservative government's refusal to disclose to Parliament and all Canadians the cost of their crime reduction plan. In fact, the election was fought over trust.

No intelligent hardworking Canadian would sign an offer on a house without having it inspected and knowing the price.

To this date, we have not been allowed to know what the omnibus crime bill will cost. Even Kevin Page, Parliamentary Budget Officer, is out of the loop although he is expecting the crime bills to cost at least $1 billion a year because of the new prisons. David MacDonald, with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has said that, due to demographics, even with the "unreported crimes"; the crime rate will continue to go down. Statistics Canada concurs. Still the Conservative government insists that we need to build more prisons. Does the Conservative government believe that "if we build it; they will come"?

On June 13, the Globe and Mail published planned employment changes for fiscal years 2010-11 to 2013-14. While there were job cuts everywhere including 4,697 to National Defence and 1,211 to Environment Canada; there was to be an increase of 24.8 per cent or 5,474 jobs in Corrections Service Canada. How does this help with the deficit?

Since this is your area of expertise, perhaps you can explain to me what these new jobs will be. How many positions will be for rehabilitation or education of prisoners in order to reduce recidivism? Just how many new prison guards will be required? Is the Conservative government planning on using War Veterans?

The only "unreported crimes" I'm familiar with have to do with spousal and sexual abuse. Will the new crime policy include services for victim protection, or funding for safe houses?

Bill C-4, Sébastien Law has to do with harsh penalties for young offenders. As a former Corrections Canada worker; you must know that for all but the most damaged youth, prison only teaches children how to become professional criminals. Will you advocate for programs to help children at risk before they end up in the penal system?

The Get Tough on Crime policy in the now bankrupt state of California has lead to a recidivism crisis. The American War on Drugs policy has been shown to be a disastrous failure, as was the Prohibition on Alcohol in the early part of the last century. Criminal activity flourished under both these policies. Why is the Conservative government so averse to learning from history?

Amendments to Bill C-50, Improving Access to Investigative Tools for Serious Crimes will allow security forces to access people's private on-line communications without notification or judicial oversight. It will be possible to continue this practice for up to three years without notifying the individual. Warrants are left to the discretion of the Public Safety Minister or the Provincial Attorney Generals. Bill C-51, Investigative Powers for the 21st Century allows warrants for the purposes of espionage that are "based on the requirement that there are reasonable grounds to suspect that an offence has been or will be committed". "Reasonable grounds" is dangerously vague and subject to misinterpretation. Bill C-52, Investigating and Preventing Criminal Electronic Communications, has wide sweeping clauses that force telecommunications service provider to disclose contents of a person's private communications to the RCMP or CSIS. Are we to become a police state like Iran or China? Should I be looking over my shoulder?

Who doesn't want to see villains punished? Feelings of rage, fear and pleasure in the suffering of others come from the dark irrational side of human nature. It is called the reptile brain. The Conservative government's crime policy appears to be ideologically driven, full of opportunities for abuse, unnecessarily cruel and, if history is any guide, doomed to failure. I hope you will vote thoughtfully, responsibly and with a conscience on the crime bills.

Good luck, Ryan. May your time in Ottawa be constructive and may you always walk on the high road.

Respectfully yours,

Linda Leon

PS: You might wish to read Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens. It remains pertinent to this day.

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