By Edward Greenspan and Anthony Doob, Globe and Mail, August 29, 2011
Edward Greenspan is a Toronto criminal lawyer. Anthony Doob is a professor of criminology at the University of Toronto.
At any given time, there are more than 1,700 Canadian citizens incarcerated around the world. To contribute to the administration of justice, the rehabilitation of offenders and their reintegration into the community, Canada has entered into international transfer agreements with more than 80 countries. Without the benefit of transfers, offenders are deported at the end of their sentence to their country of citizenship, often after having spent years in confinement and being totally unprepared for a safe, secure and successful reintegration into society....
Canadians led the world by initiating a process of transferring foreign prisoners to their home countries with a proposal at a 1975 United Nations conference. In 1978, Canada negotiated the first transfer treaty (with the U.S.). Canada led; others followed. These treaties focus on the need to rehabilitate and reintegrate offenders. Why? Because good corrections and humanitarian policies are compatible.
Between 1978 and 2009, 1,504 Canadians were transferred back to Canada to serve their prison sentences closer to their families and to be reintegrated, gradually and with support and controls, into Canadian society. The government’s own reports conclude that the act’s purpose and principles have been successful and that the law, as it stands, contributes to public safety. In one study of 744 transferred offenders, only 4 per cent committed an offence after their release from prison.
We found no records of offenders being refused re-entry by Canada until 2006, when the Harper government started rejecting transfers of significant numbers of offenders. By blocking transfers, the government is putting “looking tough” ahead of public safety, acting as if it can keep these offenders out of Canada forever. The government is pretending that “protection of society” and being “humanitarian” are incompatible. In fact, allowing Canadian offenders to return to Canada and receive treatment under correctional control is both humanitarian and crime reducing.
The current law says its purpose is “to contribute to the administration of justice and the rehabilitation of offenders and their reintegration into the community by enabling offenders to serve their sentences in the country of which they are citizens.” The government wants to change the wording so the law’s main purpose would be “to enhance public safety,” ignoring the fact that the best way to enhance public safety is to do what is currently the law.
Why change a law that’s working so well? The Harper plan is to keep Canadians who have offended abroad from serving their sentences in Canada in order to appear “tough on crime.” By legislating public safety as the act’s purpose, it hopes to justify the de facto end to transfers.
This won’t enhance public safety. The alternative – being deported to Canada at the end of the foreign sentence – will mean offenders won’t have had the benefit of rehabilitative programs; they probably will have lost contact with family and friends who could assist in their reintegration, and Canada will have no special controls over them.
Here is another example of the Harper government deciding policy under the disguise of a hollow, blunt and (they would like us to believe) sacred headline...in this case "public safety"....
With regard to the $30 billion for Fighter Jets, the government line was to "enhance recruitment" when everyone knows that new fighter Jets are both incongruent with any future war and merely an ego-seducer for young men and women, hardly the way to recruit committed military officers.
With regard to the $35 billion for armed and non-armed ships, the government line was " to protect Canada's sovereignty in the Arctic" when everyone knows there will be no resolution of Arctic boundaries by military combat.
With regard to the billions of new prison cells, and the guards to serve the increased numbers of prisoners, the government line was "increased public safety" and "safer streets"....when we all know that crime rates have consistently gone down significantly over the last decade, in all categories
Whenever a government representative is asked a question, there is always, in the answer, a "bullet" line like those above, or the most overused line of all, "the government received a strong mandate in the last election to do....."whereas, the Prime Minister, during the campaign answered not more than five questions in any single press appearance, and walked away when that quote was completed, without answering another question. Further, virtually none of the policy statements of the government following the election were promulgated during the campaign, prior to May 2.
It is as if this government (longing to be known in Canadian history as the "Harper government" not the Government of Canada) believes that the public is so stunned, stupid, ignorant or disinterested that we will not see past their disguising their policy in dumbed-down sound bites, which consistently cater to the shibboleth's to which their right wing base genuflects.
The 71% of the eligible voters who did not vote for this government (including all eligible voters whether they voted or not) are not nearly as detached, dumb or unsophisticated as this government seems to be giving us credit for being. I wonder when they will wake up to their own chicanery and start talking in real terms that everyone can both grasp and debate, about the details of their regressive and retrograde policy proposals.
It is their arrogance, and their taking the voters for granted, as if only the government knows the full truth, that is so appalling. This method of relating to the voter is nothing if not blunt, out-of-touch with reality, and based on anything but scientific data.