Prime Time Crime  


(Published in the Chilliwack Times week of April 24, 2005)

Crack down on crime?  Oh, the horror!

  By John Martin

Numerous commentaries by academics, lawyers, and activists blasting the Conservative’s plans to crack down on crime evoke a sense of déjà vu.  It was in the early 1990’s when the same constituencies went ballistic as former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani spearheaded the move to get tough with criminals south of the border.

The critics were furious.  Tough, anti-crime measures were dismissed as simplistic, ineffective and ignored the root causes of crime.  Criminologists sneered and civil libertarians cried, “foul”.

The mayor was undeterred and initiated a strategy that saw every major category of crime sharply drop.  Police cracked down on vandals, drug dealers, thieves and other miscreants.  Thousands of illegal guns were seized and criminals found themselves more likely to be arrested, charged, prosecuted and imprisoned.

The results were beyond dispute.  In less than five years felonies were down 50% and murder decreased 68%.  Other jurisdictions followed New York’s lead and reaped similar benefits.  Mandatory sentencing was introduced, chronic offenders were taken off the street and everyone was ecstatic.

Everyone except the usual naysayers and apologists, of course.

Even though law-abiding citizens were thrilled that their neighborhoods had become safe, Giuliani’s critics were outraged.  Some continued the tired whine about “criminals’ rights”.  Others, such as the New York Times, were dumbfounded as to how to respond.  One editorial asked the bizarre question, “If crime is down, why are we locking up so many people?”

Go figure, Sherlock.

True, crime decreased in most jurisdictions during the 1990’s.  But the decline was much more significant where tough, anti-crime measures were instituted.  Mandatory minimums, three-strikes-you’re-out and a host of other no nonsense provisions took tens of thousands of hard-core, repeat offenders out of circulation.

In this country, we went in the opposite direction.  Rather than cracking down on crime, we made excuses for it, introduced a host of alternatives to incarceration (most of which are laughable), ensured chronic offenders remained at large, and Canada now leads the U.S. in all but a handful of crime categories.

The Conservatives’ anti-crime platform pales in comparison to the U.S. initiatives of the 90’s but that hasn’t stopped the reckless and false accusations of a secret agenda to usher in a private prison-building boom.  The plan actually calls for little more than introducing mandatory sentencing for some gun related crimes, abolishing automatic release at two thirds of a sentence, and ending house arrest for violent offences.  Hardly a radical agenda.

Giuliani ignored the “experts” and instead, listened to the besieged residents of Harlem who demanded action.  His critics have never forgiven him for proving them wrong.

It looks like Harper should expect no less.

John Martin is a Criminologist at the University College of the Fraser Valley and can be contacted at

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