Feeding jails while police starve

TheStar.com – opinion/editorialopinion
Published On Mon Jun 20 2011.   Senator Colin Kenny

The auditor general’s office has finally put an exclamation mark on what some of us have been saying for five years now:

Stephen Harper’s plan to pump billions of dollars into new penitentiaries — while starving Canada’s national police force of the money it needs to do its job — is ludicrous. It’s as if the Prime Minister actually wants to promote crime as a way of filling his new jails.

The auditor general’s most recent report confirmed that the RCMP has been giving up many of its investigations into drug gangs, mobsters and organized crime because it doesn’t have the resources to pursue them.

I say the report “confirmed” this because the Senate Committee on National Security and Defence was all over this issue before the prorogation of December 2009, and six Liberal senators issued a report during the prorogation that pointed out that the RCMP couldn’t do its job because it was underfunded.

Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli told the committee in 2006 that when it came to organized crime the RCMP only had the resources to tackle one-third of “what we know is out there” (not to mention the organized crime that it didn’t know about because it didn’t have the resources to uncover it).

The auditor general’s report cited huge delays in the RCMP’s system for updating criminal records for its own use and for the use of other police forces — 14 months for English updates and 36 months for French updates.

Again, the Senate committee took great pains to explain to Canadians four years ago that Parliament has given the RCMP many more responsibilities in recent years, and that the provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms make policing a much more time-consuming process than it was two or three decades ago. The Charter also expanded the workload of the RCMP exponentially without increasing the size and funding of the force to match.

The latest investigation into the state of the RCMP being done by the committee fell to the wayside when the Prime Minister prorogued Parliament. In an effort to effectively use the research that had been done, six Liberal senators on the committee went ahead and put out their own position paper on the RCMP (“Toward a Red Serge Revival,” Feb. 22, 2010).

We argued that the RCMP was at least 5,000 officers short of what it needed to perform all its duties — the 2007 Brown Report observed understaffing of 25 to 30 per cent in every detachment he visited, and that problem hasn’t been solved.

We cited David McAusland, chair of the RCMP Reform Implementation Council, as saying that there was no way that the RCMP was going to be restored to its prominent, effective position as a respected national police force unless the government committed significant amounts of money to the reform process.

All that fell on deaf ears. Efforts at reform all but ground to a halt. Recruitment was truncated — there was, after all, no point in recruiting if the RCMP couldn’t afford to pay new recruits.

Any respected criminologist will tell you that lowering the crime rate isn’t about throwing people in jail — if it were, the United States would have the lowest crime rate in the world. Crime prevention is about good social work, and good policing.

At a time when even Republican politicians in the United States are starting to see the folly of packing people into jails, we Canadians are building more jails. Never mind that crime rates are mostly down — the government argues it needs the new jails because there is lots more “unreported” crime, as though new jails will lead to more reports.

Now the auditor general is telling us that more effective policing isn’t going to be possible because the RCMP doesn’t have the resources. So why would people report more if the police are too busy to take on more cases?

If there is to be a sensible balance between spending on more police and spending on more prisons, the smart focus would be on improving policing — especially the battered RCMP. That was the message our six Liberal senators delivered a year and a half ago. The Prime Minister didn’t listen to us, and he probably won’t listen to the auditor general.

Too bad for the RCMP. And really too bad for Canadians.

Colin Kenny is former chair of the Senate committee on national security and Defence.

Kennyco@sen.parl.gc.ca.

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