On various levels, Canada is getting angrier and meaner. Is this the kind of transformation we really want? As one senior Liberal noted, the Conservatives are “out of touch, out of control.” Dangerous combination.
1a) Few Canadians know that the Taliban offered to turn over Al Qaeda leaders, if the FBI could show proof of the group’s involvement in the 9/11 disaster. The US ignored this. That was almost ten years and more than 100 Canadian lives. Recent figures show civilian casualties have increased by 31 percent since last year. The number of children killed in the war is up 55 percent.
1b) After almost ten years and more than $18 Billion dollars, the Conservatives unilaterally cancelled the full troop withdrawal in 2011, voted for by Parliament, and will leave about 950 soldiers for another three years. We will now be spending almost one Billion a year to train Afghan police and soldiers. Peter Galbraith, former UN envoy to Afghanistan, says it will take many years to accomplish this, if ever.
1c) When allegations that the government ignored reports that the Afghan security was torturing war prisoners – contravening the Geneva Conventions – went public, diplomat Richard Colvin was threatened with legal action, possibly jail, infringing on his rights. Then, Harper shut down Parliament for 22 days.
1d) What many saw as “contempt of Parliament” led to an extraordinary ruling by Speaker Peter Milliken – who condemned the government for breaching parliamentary privilege by refusing to release uncensored documents. Thanks to Harper's manoeuvres, however, the torture issue is now lost in the complexities of an ad hoc parliamentary committee and procedural tie-ups. In early March, the BQ finally threatened to pull out of the Afghan detainee document review committee if it didn’t produce disclosures within six weeks. “This delay makes no sense, because we were told that in January it would be done,” said Gilles Duceppe. ”Now there is a deadline.”
2a) The government plans to buy 65 “problem-plagued,” as-yet-untested F-35 stealth fighters from Lockheed Martin through an untendered contract worth $9 Billion – plus $7 Billion more in maintenance costs. That’s $16 Billion, probably more, of our diminishing tax dollars – the largest military procurement in Canada’s history. In March, Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page warned Canadians that the Harper government was low-balling the cost of the jets by more than $12 Billion. That’s $450-million per plane. To put this into perspective, $30 Billion is equivalent to $1,000 for every man, woman, and child in Canada.
2b) It has been noted that the “stealth” aspects of the F-35 allow it to conduct first strike air raids more safely. Right now, the US has “more F-35s than it wants or needs,” and our potential enemies the Russians and Chinese will probably find ways to detect the plane, making it less stealthy.
2c) Alan Williams, former assistant deputy minister of defence for materiel, has testified that: "The procurement process is out of control and has degenerated into handouts for the chosen beneficiaries." As with the prison expansion and the corporate tax cut costs, the government is concealing relevant information. Liberal defence critic, Dominic Leblanc, demanded the release of a key air force report behind the purchase of the fighter jets.
2d) A Wikipedia page was altered, removing criticism of the government’s plans to buy the fighter jets and adding false praise for the jets by Ignatieff. The dirty trick was traced to a Department of National Defence computer.
2e) According to a late March Nanos poll, 68 per cent of Canadians feel that “now is not a good time” to proceed with the F-35 fighter purchase.
3a) Contrary to the views of almost 80 percent of Canadians, the government, supported by the US National Rifle Association, pushed hard to end the long-gun registry – even calling pro-registry police a “cult.” Marty Cheliak, the RCMP Chief Superintendent and a strong proponent of the registry was suddenly replaced as head of the Canadian Firearms Program.
3b) The Harper-appointed civilian RCMP-head William Elliott finally resigned after an unprecedented mutiny. It is claimed that citizens’ complaints were thwarted, officer-behaviour standards lowered, and morale destroyed.
4a) Crime rates are down and the population is aging, but the Harper government claims it must introduce tougher laws, incarcerate more Canadians, and spend Billions – the cost is being kept confidential – to expand prisons because of an increase in “unreported” crime. According to the Correctional Service of Canada, the federal prison population will increase by 30 per cent in coming years. Pre-election prison construction announcements in various ridings reek of penal pork barrelling.
4b) Forty percent of the bills introduced by the Conservatives recently are related to crime. The Parliamentary Budget Officer predicted a price tag of $10 to $13 Billion for Bill C-25 alone – the Cons said $90 million – which eliminates the two-for-one credit for pre-trial time served, meaning longer time served. The Conservatives have been stonewalling, refusing to reveal the costs of their prison agenda, and have been accused, once again, of contempt of Parliament.
4c) Bill S-10 proposes a mandatory six-month sentence (if there is a past offence) for possessing as few as six marijuana plants – the same sentence applied to a trafficker with 200 plants. When the Liberals tried to raise the number of plants to 20, the government refused. This will affect a disproportionate number of Canadians aged 18-25. Even a person giving a prescription drug to another could be charged. Ignatieff: “…this bill doesn’t distinguish between massive grow-ops and a first-time offender with a small amount. What’s more, the Conservatives won’t tell us what the fiscal implications of this bill are. How many billions will it cost? How many mega-prisons will have to be built?”
4d) Conservative Senators refused to amend S-10 provisions which remove judicial discretion for minor drug offences by automatically applying a mandatory minimum sentence to anyone with minor drug convictions over the last 10 years. Hutchinson (above) testified that mandatory minimum sentences in the US were often unfair and put people behind bars who didn’t need to be there. In some cases, people who were only peripherally involved in a crime were sent to jail for 10 years because of mandatory minimum sentencing.
4e) Bill C-59, which eliminates Accelerated Parole Review (APR), will result in at least 1,500 low risk, first-time, non-violent offenders each year spending at least six months longer in prison at taxpayers’ expense. Critics say Canadian proposals to reduce parole eligibility will reduce the amount of time inmates spend under supervision in the community, preparing them for full release, and this will lead to a higher degree of recidivism.
4f) Right-wing Republican Newt Gingrich has admitted that this Tough on Crime agenda doesn’t work and has led to the US prison population growing “13 times faster than the general population” at a cost of $68 Billion in 2010 – a 300 percent jump in 25 years. That means one in every 100 American adults is behind bars – up from one in 400 in the 1970s – with half of released inmates back inside within three years.
4g) Asa Hutchinson, a Republican who represented Arkansas in the U.S. Congress and a former prosecutor who advocated a tough approach to crime, has joined other high-profile members of his party in advocating a revision of harsh American justice policies. “We have made some mistakes and I hope you can learn from those mistakes,” Mr. Hutchinson told the Commons public safety committee
4h) While paying lip service for victims of crime, the Conservatives cut the budget to Grants for the Victims of Crime Initiative by 41 percent and Contributions for the Victims of Crime Initiative by 34 percent. It has also cancelled without explanation a successful, low-cost anti-gang program geared toward youth-at-risk, even though it had been announced with great fanfare by two Conservative ministers in 2007.
4i) Six prison farms – possibly Canada’s most effective rehabilitation programs where inmates produce food for themselves and other prisons – are being closed because they cost $4.1 million. Observers say the Conservatives’ punitive attitude is turning Corrections Canada into Punishment Canada, resulting in warehoused inmates being “hardened” not “healed.”
4j) One reason the government gave for closing the prison farms is that it wanted to replace them with programs that would offer the inmates more marketable skills. Since August, when the Frontenac prison farm was closed eight inmates have been doing carpentry, but more than 50 have not been given anything equivalent to the farm program.
4k) In February, Parliament passed a motion ordering the government to “refrain from taking any steps to sell, dismantle or reduce operations at any of Canada’s prison farms in any way, until independent experts have had an opportunity to fully review the value of the farm program and fully report in writing.” However, the government has ignored this by selling valuable farm equipment.
5) Harper recently reiterated his support for capital punishment.
6) With Bill C-49, the Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada’s Immigration System Act, the government claims it will not tolerate “the abuse of our generous immigration system.” But the bill is arbitrary and draconian. It will allow the minister to designate vessels as “mass arrivals,” allowing authorities to hold would-be refugee claimants, including children, for up to one year while their case is heard. All three opposition parties claim this would be unconstitutional.
7) The government’s use of Security Certificates, as in the case of Algerian Mohamed Harkat, allowing detention without charge and no access to evidence for reasons of national security is undemocratic and violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and our Constitution. “Secret trials” are a slippery slope.
8a) Under Harper’s watch, Canada saw the largest mass arrest in its history – and the most violent. People were arbitrarily searched, humiliated, attacked with batons and rubber bullets, tear gassed, pepper sprayed, kicked in the face, and had bones broken by 20.000 armed police officers, some of whom had removed their badge numbers. The government praised the police.
8b) The Billion spent on “militarizing” downtown Toronto was nothing less than a misappropriation of public funds. Fake lake included. Industry Minister Tony Clement has been accused of using $50 million tax dollars to build a fancy gazebo in his riding, buy off constituents, and grease donors’ palms.
9) Security is also the excuse for Bill C-49, which facilitates the sharing of Canadian passenger records. CBC’s the Fifth Estate has revealed that 20 government departments are now involved in national “security,” along with CSIS and the RCMP.