The new Prohibition
NationalPost.com – Opinion
Aug. 7, 2010. Terence Corcoran, National Post
The Harper government, fresh from botching its alleged pander to the libertarian wing of the Conservative party with its voluntary census plan, appears to be having no problem steamrolling over the libertarian wing’s sensitivities on crime. In back-to-back performances this week, two Cabinet ministers invoked harsh tough-on-crime motives that show the Tories’ concern about individual rights to be a fleeting interest compared with their enthusiasm for escalating the bonkers American war on drugs, gambling and sex.
Under the guise of fighting “organized crime,” a global economic sector created largely by government laws and regulations, the Conservatives — with hardly a peep from the opposition or critics — this week expanded the Canadian division of the monstrous U.S.-led war on drugs. For a government allegedly concerned about the “intrusiveness” of a pollster extracting personal information under threat of fines and prison, the Conservatives are disturbingly unconcerned about a massive increase in police power to meddle in the lives of its citizens in the name of fighting crime.
The government’s bizarre crime declarations began Tuesday, when Stockwell Day, as Treasury Board Secretary, defended a budget plan to spend $9-billion building prisons at a time when crime rates are declining. Mr. Day, reaching for an explanation, tried to link the prison expansions to “the increase in the amount of unreported crimes that surveys show clearly are happening.” This was an obvious head-scratcher for reporters: If the crimes are unreported, how will the criminals perpetrating those crimes end up in the expanded prison system? And, moreover, what is an “unreported crime”? Mr. Day rambled around the subject, ending with the usual Tory calls for tougher sentences and a warning that you can’t take a “liberal view” of crime.
“We don’t think serious crime should be treated lightly,” he said.
It turns out the unreported-crime story may have some legitimacy as a contact sport for the statistical statists who are otherwise at war over the voluntary census. The Crime Victimization survey, conducted by StatsCan, asks Canadians about car and bicycle thefts, residential burglaries, pickpockets, robbery, unwanted sexual assault or harassment, and other physical assaults. The survey, a voluntary non-census effort, shows a discrepancy between the number of crimes people say they experience in real life and actual crime statistics. So what’s real: The crimes reported, or the crimes not reported? Are people getting robbed, raped and assaulted but not taking the crimes to police?
Before Canada’s vociferous stats community could sort any of this out, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson appeared the next day with a plan that could generate the criminal numbers to justify the prison spending. The government will apparently fill Mr. Day’s prisons with thousands of new criminals to be convicted under an expansion of the definition of “serious crimes” under the Criminal Code.
Mr. Nicholson was accompanied by some of Canada’s top police chiefs as he explained how the government needed to escalate its war on organized crime. The government, he said, had enacted regulations that, effective immediately, would give police new powers to crack down on a long list of activities that are already covered under criminal law as relatively minor offences.
The list of crimes now considered serious is worth a close look, especially in the context of Mr. Day’s concern about unreported crimes. They include:
– Keeping a common gaming or betting house;
– Betting, pool-selling and bookmaking;
– Keeping a common bawdy house;
– Trafficking in barbiturates and other chemical drugs;
– Trafficking in any quantity of cannabis;
– Importing, exporting, producing barbiturates.
Under the new get-tough regulations, keeping a common bawdy-house or selling a couple of ounces of marijuana will now bring maximum prison sentences of “at least” five years in prison. A low-level operator of a bawdy-house could also face five-year prison terms.
More important for police and prosecutors, under the organized crime umbrella, the full force of the gang-war and drug-war crime-fighting machine will be unleashed on small-time players who may appear to have organized-crime connections. These include wiretaps, tougher bail regimes, the ability to seize the proceeds of crime, sentencing conditions and parole rules.
One of the noteworthy characteristics of the new regulatory effort is that it does not include any of the “unreported” crimes — thefts, burglaries and sexual assaults — that Mr. Day seems to think will soon be the source of an expanding prison population.
Take, for example, keeping a common bawdy-house. The sex trade is a booming business in Canada. Nobody sees the transaction between a prostitute and a john as an “unreported crime,” mainly because there is no underlying crime to report. There are no criminal victims. The same goes for the thousands of Canadians who smoke dope and take barbiturates or ingest steroids. Bookmakers and hockey-pool organizers ply their trade across the country, but they are not the unreported criminals Mr. Day said exist in “alarming numbers.”
The people who are going to fill Mr. Day’s jails are thousands of small-time bookies, prostitutes, drug traffickers and others who are seen by government to be a branch of the “organized crime” industry, even though their crime is to deliver a service to Canadians who are willing to pay for it.
Organized crime through the centuries has been the creation of government law. A business gets organized as a crime because government declares it to be illegal. Alcohol trade became an organized crime under prohibition, and disappeared after alcohol was legalized. Pornography was once controlled by organized crime, but now the industry is legitimate and the criminal behavior — smuggling, guns, violence — that once surrounded it is gone. Want porn? Turn on the TV, where it’s available 24/7 on cable.
The criminalization of gambling over the decades created a major outlet for organized crime syndicates — until governments came along and organized the crime themselves, in the form of national lotteries and government-owned casinos. Still, private gambling among citizens who like to bet on outcomes other than lottery draws is a continuing business. Governments’ war on private book-making and private poker dens is more to protect their own monopolies than to eliminate crime.
Canada’s Criminal Code definition of organized crime, adopted as part of an international policing campaign a few years ago, is an open door to extreme law enforcement. An organization “composed of three or more persons in or outside Canada” is a criminal organization if it “has as one of its main purposes or main activities the facilitation or commission of one or more serious offences [see above], that, if committed, would likely result in the direct or indirect receipt of a material benefit, including a financial benefit, by the group or by any one of the persons who constitute the group.”
With that wide-open definition, the organized-crime enforcement juggernaut already has spawned a largely futile attempt to curb biker gangs, and an expensive and wasteful money-laundering data agency — whose bureaucracy, incidentally, is to get a new $9-million budget increase this year under the Conservatives.
There is no space or need here to review the already well-documented grotesque criminal culture and social deterioration spawned by the U.S.-led war on drugs — a war the Conservatives are now bringing to the streets of Canada. The enforcement of these new regulations, aimed a low-level providers of services that have willing buyers, will be as effective in curbing genuine criminal activity as the other organized crime measures have been, which is not at all. They are likely to make things worse.
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