Prime Time Crime


(Published in the Chilliwack Times week of May 16, 2011)


Things just got a lot better 


  By John Martin


The celebrations at Conservative headquarters have died down as a newly elected majority government sets about getting back to work.

But Canadians are soon going to have cause for a different sort of celebration. The single most dramatic, and long overdue overhaul of criminal justice is just around the corner.

The government has pledged that within 100 days of taking office they will bundle all their unpassed crime legislation into one bill for speedy passage. Regardless of one's political stripe-this is wonderful news.

The Conservatives have been less than successful at passing an ambitious anti-crime agenda due to their previous minority status. Opposition parties routinely stonewalled and watered down the government's legislation. And when it was too politically risky to oppose the more popular measures, it was left to the Liberal dominated Senate to run interference.

But now with solid majorities in both the Commons and Senate, the government should have no problem turning their legislation into law.

Among the long-awaited reforms is an end to house arrest for violent offenders. Imposing mandatory sentences for offenders who sexually assault children. Equipping law enforcement with the necessary resources to be effective crime fighters in the high-tech communications era. More anti-terrorism tools for the police and courts. Ending the practice of automatically granting pardons. And the list goes on.

Opposition parties, academics, lawyers, and the usual soft-on-crime crowd continue to howl that crime is in decline so there's no need to crack down.

I had to snicker at this talking point on a recent trip to New York. I met with numerous law enforcement managers who played a part in cleaning up the Big Apple during the '90s. There was a time when New York was a hell hole from one end to the other and crime was out of control.

An ambitious plan by the mayor and chief of police had a dramatic impact. Crime fell to a fraction of what it was. Citizens once again felt safe in their city. There has never been as successful a reduction in crime as New Yorkers experienced.

But as I found out, the city and police aren't satisfied yet. Even though New York is the safest big city in North America officials are still trying to drive crime down. If crime inches up even a fraction in a particular part of the city, the precinct commander has some explaining to do. In short, superiors want to know, "what happened and what are you doing about it."

That is such a far cry from where our heads have been at in this country. The notion that because crime isn't as bad as it was we shouldn't worry about it, is both dangerous and irresponsible. Sure it's gone down in the last 20 years. But violent crime is still 300 per cent higher than it was in 1962.

And it's generally those who reside in the lowest income neighborhoods who are most likely to feel the full impact of drugs, gangs and violent crime.

Perhaps the lawyers, academics and surviving handful of Liberal MPs could brave their way into these crime-ridden neighbourhoods and tell the residents why it's a bad idea to crack down on crime.

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


Prime Time Crime

Contributing 2011