Prime Time Crime


(Published in the Chilliwack Times week of June 15, 2009)


Welcome interlude of maturity in Ottawa


  By John Martin

The very nature of a democratic society is without a doubt the single greatest impediment to getting things done. The political consequences and fallout must always temper enacting the proper policy at the proper time. For a decade, the flaws and failures of Canada’s immigration and refugee systems were most apparent and corrective measures readily available. But the political realities of catering to certain communities and pretending to be committed to ideological doctrine resulted in an enduring state of inertia.

Opposition parties are forever mindful they must always be seen as an alternative government and any support, even the most common sense, levelheaded support, of a government policy, may come at a high political cost. Similarly, governments must often stand firm and support failed policies less their opponents be given an opportunity to say, "we told you so."

This, as much as anything, explains the failings of our criminal justice system. In government, the federal Liberals resisted countless motions to reform the system in the name of public safety. Doing so would have validated the opposition’s "get tough on crime" campaign and the politically astute course of action was to leave the system as it was; flaws and all.

Reckless and irresponsible to be sure – but these are the political realities.

That’s why it is so refreshing and encouraging to see a wave of common sense ushering in an era of criminal justice reform.

Against all odds, the Ignatieff-led Liberals are supporting the government’s crime legislation; knowing full well that doing so may carry a political price. Under the bill, people convicted of serious drug crimes will automatically face prison terms of six months or longer. The legislation is especially tough on any offender who traffics drugs or recruits young people into drug crime activities.

Even more surprising, but certainly welcome and long over-due, the Liberals have expressed support for abolishing the faint hope clause. This means offenders convicted of murder will serve their entire sentence with no opportunity for an early review.

Already, the blogosphere has lit up with furious Liberal supporters in a state of angst over their party’s backing of such legislation. Jack Layton and the NDP, naturally, are ecstatic that they alone can now be the sole champions for the hug-a-thug, cuddle-bear approach to crime.

We certainly don’t want to go overboard and conclude the Liberals are now about to always do the right thing and damn the political consequences. Surely their strategists and polling people have indicated they can contain the fallout to supporting the crime legislation or they would be having nothing to do with it.

Still, we should be quite prepared to accept the results regardless of how they came about. Michael Ignatieff is far too elitist to ever be Prime Minister but he has brought a level of maturity and responsibility to a corrupt party that has been wholly discredited in recent times. He has already laid down the law with Liberal MPs who openly support terrorist organizations and the anti-Israeli rhetoric that was standard Liberal talking points has been shut down.

His support of the Tory’s crime legislation will, to some small extent, improve public safety. In offering it, he has chosen the public interest over the cheap and petty political interest.

I, for one, am encouraged.

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


Prime Time Crime

Contributing 2009