Shooting the messenger

StatsCan’s recent crime numbers appear to be inconvenient for Conservative Senator Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu

by Martin Patriquin

Canada is a safer country now than in 1999. According to a Statistics Canada report released this week, it is exactly 17 percent safer now than in those comparatively barbaric pre-millennial days of Brian Tobin and Blink 182. And what crime does occur is, on average, less serious now than two years ago–four percent less serious, to be exact, according to the Crime Severity Index (CSI), which analyses police-reported crime. Not to suggest its all peaches and cream, but we should pat ourselves on our collective back. We live in a place that is safer and less violent than it used to be. Bravo.

Or not. “Someone, somewhere, is manipulating the numbers.” This pithy bit of paranoia didn’t come from a crank or some the-truth-is-out-there freak in his pajamas and tinfoil hat. It’s courtesy of recently appointed Conservative Senator Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu, who by all accounts is a fine and upstanding fellow. The trouble is that these numbers don’t quite square with Sen. Boisvenu’s agenda, or that of the Conservatives in general, and he’s mad as hell about it.

In 2002, Mr. Boisvenu’s daughter was raped and murdered. It was a tragic, heinous crime, the stuff of nightmares and worse, and I can’t begin to fathom the extent of  Sen. Boisvenu’s pain. He became remarkably pro-active following her murder, founding the Murdered or Missing Persons’ Families’ Association, and campaigning for victims’ rights throughout the country, and last year was appointed to the Senate to give some backbone to the Conservatives law-and-order agenda.

It’s not Sen. Boisvenu’s bona fides that are troubling; it’s his belief that we as a society can’t possibly have progressed because, well, there are still rapes, murders, abductions and misery in our streets–a belief so strong that he’s willing to flout empirical evidence to the contrary. A belief so strong, in fact, that Sen. Boisvenu informed La Presse’s Paul Journet that he’s going to “talk to those [StatsCan] guys” to chat about their methodology. There you have it: if the numbers are inconvenient, Sen. Boisvenu seems to be saying, then the numbers must be wrong.

Aside from reflecting the Conservatives apparent (and bizarre) dislike of Statistics Canada, which is recognized as one of the world’s foremost statistical agencies, Sen. Boisvenu’s sortie brings to mind another Conservative obsession: “getting tough on crime.” This is the mother of all catchphrases against which it is impossible to argue–who doesn’t want to see criminals punished?–yet means next to nothing. (an aside: we are tough on crime, so much so that it’s diminished by nearly 20 percent in 10 years.)

The Conservatives use it to justify things like mandatory minimum sentences and the building of new jails, and to suggest that by “getting tough on crime” their opponents are somehow “soft on crime.” It’s about as cynical as you can get: introduce these policies as “crackdowns”, wait for the statisticians and academics to kvetch, and then sell the whole thing as a populist rejection of the ivory tower types who can’t possibly know what they are talking about. Don’t believe me? Read this excellent piece by colleague John Geddes, and check this choice quote John harvested from the likes of Ian Brodie, Harper’s former chief-of-staff:

“Every time we proposed amendments to the Criminal Code, sociologists, criminologists, defence lawyers and Liberals attacked us for proposing measures that the evidence apparently showed did not work,” Brodie said. “That was a good thing for us politically, in that sociologists, criminologists and defence lawyers were and are all held in lower repute than Conservative politicians by the voting public. Politically it helped us tremendously to be attacked by this coalition of university types.”

A little sickening, isn’t it?




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Shooting the messenger

  1. yes, it is.

  2. 'University types'??? OMG no, the horror!

    We are supposed to be 'hewers of wood and drawers of water' in perpetuity….how did we let education get in ??

    It's obviously a commie plot!

  3. It's like these guys admired the Bush administration and its way of doing business of something. Next they'll be vetting crown attorneys..

  4. I'll say this… Comments like these or that of Clement are more of a reflection on us as a people than they are on them. It's not like they just became this ridiculously rabbid. They were like this when we allowed them to gain power and to stay there for as long as they have.

    We got the government we voted for…

    • Overall, I'd agree with that. It's us that's doing the voting after all.

      Otoh….we don't know anything about our politicians. I'm not a fan of American-style tabloid politics, but it would help a great deal if we didn't have to find out by accident that our 'science minister' is a creationist!

      We can only go by what the leaders say in Ottawa, since we don't know what any of the rest of them are like. In fact, to this day, we know very little about Harper….although reams were written about Dion and Ignatieff's personal lives.

      How many of them oppose 'university types'? Is this a common thing? How many of them are university graduates? And what does that say about the future of education and science in this country?

      Without a couple of non-govt mavericks would we even have the Perimeter Institute? Or would we all be funnelled into ship-building?

      • Emily, are you seriously suggesting that you did not know how far right Harper was before he became PM? Were you not paying attention when he was in Opposition? If anything, Harper and his crew are far more restrained now compared to the things that would come out of their mouths at the time.

        • Well, I'm a political junkie, so of course I knew. But most people aren't you know.

          Ontario voted in the Harris 'PCs', in the firm belief we'd had PC govts before and they'd been fine…over several years people realized to their shock and dismay that the PCs had morphed into Reform without anyone realizing it.

          They hear little bits and pieces on the radio on the way home, or they read general 'gotcha' columns in the media on the leaders, and they hear nothing about their own MP.

          In fact political coverage is often so bad or so sparse, most people tune it out. They hear 'bullet points' from the leaders during a campaign, and that's it.

          Debates….which were supposed to reveal things, are generally so stiff and regulated that they tell you nothing either.

          • disagree, I think Ontarians had a pretty good idea what Harris was going to do when they elected him, and even more so when they re-elected him.

          • No, there was nothing to indicate he was Reform, not PC….not even the party name.

          • nothing? you don't remember the 3 words "Common Sense Revolution"? Haris and co. were pretty explicit, strident, vocal and polarizing in their every pronouncement regarding what they'd do. It's okay if to feel bad for having voted for him post Peterson and Rae, but the cogninitive dissonance of your "we didn't know he'd be like this" is starkly obvious.

          • Most people like the idea of 'common sense'….they didn't equate it with the Reform party however.

            'Racist, sexist, anti-gay, Preston Manning go away' was what was chanted here.

            Harris was certainly seen as more blue tory than red, but we were coming off 5 disasterous NDP years, and that wasn't a problem….. but no one thought he was Reform

          • "but no one thought he was Reform"
            wow, then paranormal science really lost out on a chance to study the clairvoyance that I possessed at age 15. Too bad for you UCLA!

          • You didn't know either, so don't pretend. LOL

          • are you calling me a liar, "LOL"?

          • No, a garden-variety idiot who actually believes the stuff he types.

          • thanks for clarifying, I'll be ignoring you from now on.

          • Promises, promises…

    • The key problem is that plenty of people are disgusted by Harper but not enough to switch from Liberal to NDP or NDP to Liberal or Green to NDP, or BQ to Liberal etc. And a lot of people just throw up their hands and stay home out of exasperation.

      Nothing much will change until some of the parties to the left of Harper start reorganizing themselves.

  5. i prefer the suggested explanation put forth in "Freakanomics", that it was the liberalization of abortion laws that have resulted in our lower crime stats and not any legislation or criminal code strengthening…but something like probably doesn't square the Conservative circle either….

    • Silly.

  6. I personally hold very few categories in lower esteem than Conservative politicians. But then, I have several university degrees, so the feeling is apparently mutual.

    • Unfortunately I'm a conservative, therefore I am not smart enough to understand your comment. I guess my own university degrees don't help.

      • touchy.

      • "Politically it helped us tremendously to be attacked by this coalition of university types.”

        Perhaps you should direct some sarcasm in Mr. Brodie's, et al, direction too.

        In the same way that having a gay caucus member or two doesn't make the government automatically sympathetic to gay issues, your particular instance of holding degrees and being a supporter of the government doesn't automatically refute a certain anti-intellectual streak amongst these neocons. And it makes your treatment of reactions to it (like A_logician's) as somewhat strained evidence for unfair stereotyping by non-neocons.

    • I have a university degree too. However, my low esteem for Conservative politicians stems from having had one in the family.

      • My opinion of Conservative politicians is not based on how they might feel about me, but rather on their records.

    • The fact that someone with a university education would fall into the ridiculous meme that Conservative politicians resent university education says more about the quality of the university education than about the Conservatives.

    • Didn't you forget the ;-) or some other winky symbol?

      • The fact that I made my living doing statistical analyses for a Progressive Conservative government may have affected my attitudes. . . .

        • Were those the good old days, with a political party that you wish would make a reappearance, or did you have a similar disdain for the old PC party?

  7. Typo Alert: "Boisvenu", not "Bienvenu", par.2 (twice).

  8. I agree that the desire to claim statistics are incorrect because they don't support your preferred policy or ideology is troubling (most people have the common decency to just ignore statistics that don't jive with their arguments).

    However, I'm still unable to draw the logical link between "crime rates have fallen" and "crime is not a problem therefore any attempts to push those rates down further, or express disapprobation for the commission of certain offences is disingenuous and wrong headed".

    In other words, the tough on crime proposals are good or bad, smart or dumb, on their merits, regardless as to whether crime is rising or falling. If Canada had a single murder per year, we'd still want to condemn it, no?

    • The problem with the Conservatives' "tough on crime" legislation is that it won't actually reduce crime. This sort of thing has been tried in the United States, and has been found to be unsuccessful.

      The goal of their legislation is not to reduce crime, but to harvest the votes of the fearful. (And to paint the opposition as "soft on crime", which is just as good.)

      But you have to sympathize with M. Boisvenu – you can't blame him for wanting to get tough on crime, even if the methods he advocates aren't helpful. It is entirely understandable that he is obsessed with violent crime, given the horrible tragedy of what happened to his daughter.

      • The problem with the Conservatives' "tough on crime" legislation is that it won't actually reduce crime.

        Who says the only goal of our criminal justice system is to reduce crime? According to the Criminal Code (s.718), as amended by a former Liberal government, the purposes of sentencing are:

        "to denounce unlawful conduct; the deter the offender and other persons from committing offences; to separate offenders from society, where necessary; to assist in rehabilitating offenders; to provide reparations for harm done to victims or the community; and, to promote a sense of responsibility in offenders, and acknowledgement of the harm done to victims and the community."

        • and the current tough-oncrime proposals and programming tend to ignore or downplay two important parts, namely the "where necessary" caveat to "to separate offenders from society" and the "to assist in rehabilitating offenders." I used to work closely with Corrections Canada officials who explained to me (with detailed supporting evidence) how a deliberate policy of trying to segregate the "boy scouts" from the "worst of the worst" and streaming the former into minimum security, halfway houses and conditional release, and the latter medium and maximum security penitentiaries was reducing recidivism rates and reducing costs. Two key indicators of success if you ask me.

          • "boy scouts" and "worst of the worst" were their terms.

          • And that's a perfectly reasonable argument to make. But "crime rates are going down so any crime related initiatives are necessarily wrongheaded/vindictive/etc." isn't.

            The obvious counterpoint to your argument is that many people believe that even boy scouts who commit heinous crimes deserve to be punished, and that perhaps the range of accepted sentencing levels for certain crimes in certain jurisdictions is too low regardless. This might be an example.

            Obviously, it's a balancing act, and the principles of sentencing I noted above can often conflict, or at least lead to different conclusions. I'm just rejecting the notion you hear frequently in the media that "crime is going down ipso facto crime is not a problem".

          • "Obviously, it's a balancing act … rejecting the notion you hear frequently in the media that "crime is going down ipso facto crime is not a problem". I agree, but it's a well-known fact that penitentiaries are "crime university" and so streaming those offenders most likely to be rehabilitated / least likely to re-offend (rarely those who have committed heinous crimes, but in the case of say a Robert Latimer, sometimes even those) away from med and max security pens is just smart management, and should be valued by many conservative types, rather than derided as "liberal soft on crime" (or even worse, liberal strategy for winning the incarcerated vote, as some despicably accuse).

          • Yea, it makes sense in theory, for sure. But if it's so easy to determine who are the boy scouts and who are the worst of the worst, why don't we have boy scout prisons and worst of the worst prisons, classifying each individual accordingly, and then the boy scouts will have a positive environment within which they can be rehabilitated while paying their debt to society?

            It's similar to the argument you often heard against eliminating the two for one pre-trial credit: that because the standard of living in the pre-trial detention facilities were below what one would encounter at a prison, staying in them for one year should count as staying in a normal prison for two. But this isn't an argument for the 2 for 1 credit, its an argument for improving the living conditions at pre-trial detention facilities.

          • "why don't we have boy scout prisons and worst of the worst prisons" we do, and have for decades, they're halfway houses and minimum security pens and medium and maximum security pens, respectively.
            "But this isn't an argument for the 2 for 1 credit, its an argument for improving the living conditions at pre-trial detention facilities."
            And when greater than 2-1 credit was granted, it was generally based on a case-by-case assessment of the the despicable state of overcrowding and disease outbreaks (e.g., TB!), etc, that may suspects may have had to endure while in remand.

          • we do, and have for decades, they're halfway houses and minimum security pens and medium and maximum security pens, respectively.

            So how are boy scouts entering "criminal university" then? They're just hanging out with other boy scouts. And you're not acknowledging that 2-1 credits weren't attempting to solve the problem (poor living conditions) so much as provide some sort of a reprieve as compensation for suffering. Wouldn't it make sense then to deal with the living conditions, if that's really the problem, instead of letting people who may have committed serious crimes out after serving half their sentence?

          • (1of2)"Wouldn't it make sense then to deal with the living conditions" absolutely! I meant to write "agreed" after I quoted you on 2 for 1, but clearly neglected to do so.

            Regarding your first point, I worry that the current gov't rejects the previous policy of 'streaming boy scouts and baddies' that we have been discussing here, and would prefer what I called a 'rack-em-and-stack-em' policy of sending all federal inmates to a 'lighter,' 'more-Canadian' version of the privatized super prisons they have in the U.S. Closing the Prison Farm program, killing Faint Hope, 'toughening up' the parole system, railing against offenders being given 'cushy' sentences in Minimum Security, more and more mandatory minimum sentences, forbidding conditional sentences, etc. are examples of this tendency that would unltimately see more and more offenders sent to the big big bad federal penitentiaries, regardless of their potential for rehabilitation or likelihood to re-offend.

          • (2of2) And call me naive or a statist-government-lover, but I think that the professionals at CSC and the Parole Board are generally pretty good at assessing an offender's potential for rehabilitation or likelihood to re-offend (when they are properly resourced!). Unfortunately our governments (plural) are never very interested in researching and publicising their performance in corrections, e.g., recidivism rates, and success rates of prison job/education programs.

          • McC, give me some credit. I don't think you're naive or a statist-government-lover, I think you're naive AND a statist-government lover. But seriously, I see your points here, and they're good ones – not unassailable but definitely reasonable, and quite possibly correct to at least to some extent. I'm not sure if their record to date supports the claim that the government is pursuing a "rack-em-and-stack-em" policy, but you're entitled to your concerns (and you're not the only one with the same concerns). My main point was simply that declining crime rates aren't determinitive in deciding whether certain criminal justice policies are defensible, as people like Martin would seem to imply (and others, claim outright).

            I'm happy people like yourself put forward reasonable criticisms of the government's 'crime agenda', they're very useful. I just think they should be attacked on their merits, as you do, not simply dismissed on the basis of statistics that have really nothing to do with anything (Sean's concerns below, which I'm still trying to wrap my head around, notwithstanding)

          • Ha, I like that!
            Anyway, wouldn't it be nice if we could debate all policies this way?

          • Olaf your reasoning is the perfect example of why logic should not be allowed to rule the world unopposed.
            There is no way to logically tell you it's wrong because it isn't as far as logic goes.

            However I can tell you I believe you're wrong because if you're going to tell me we're going to spend millions of dollars (the provinces are, not the feds, all they do is act big and look tough and tell others to pay up) on something that is already doing fine and that the empirical evidence that these said measures don't achieve anything in terms of results on criminality.
            Logic is great, but not at the expense of judgment.

          • How should one come to judgments but through logic and reason? Gut feelings? Intuition?

        • I agree with Olaf. Since the evidence shows that our crime rate is relatively insensitive to sentencing for most crimes, it also follows that a dropping crime rate is not an argument for lower penalties, the status quo, or raising penalties. They simply are not strongly linked.

          It is unfortunate that the Conservatives continually mis-state the statistics around crime and present their tough on crime bills as a route to lowering crime rates. Their real objective is associated with victim's rights i.e. that victims are entitled to a "pound of flesh". Personally, I am a big proponent of the getting them off the street thing, and would be happy to support captial punishment for the most serious crimes on that basis. (albiet with a higher standart of proof required)

          • Personally, I am a big proponent of the getting them off the street thing, and would be happy to support captial punishment for the most serious crimes on that basis. (albiet with a higher standart of proof required)

            One of the many reasons why I am opposed to capital punishment is that the criminal justice system is not able to ensure that no innocent man or woman will ever be put to death.

          • (albiet with a higher standart of proof required)

            What's higher than beyond a reasonable doubt? Like beyond an unreasonable doubt?

            But yes, to the extent Conservative's misstate statistics, they're to be called out on it. I'm not really up on the whole "can sentencing ever serve as a deterrent" debate, although I think the general academic consensus is that after a certain point the answer is "generally, no", so to the extent that they frame their argument as "we need these measures for the purposes of reducing crime rates", I'd have to see some evidence of why they think the measures will in fact reduce crime rates. Although I think I'm placing an evidential requirement on campaign-style rhetoric that no politician on either side of the debate would care to fulfill.

          • I would word it simply "beyond all doubt" and as an example Bernardo would likely meet the criteria while other mass murderers might not.

          • Fair enough, but it leads me to the obvious question: why are you so soft on mass murderers, Stewart?

          • I am ultimately pragmatic. I agree with Out There that as a society we must be very carefully about offing innocent people. So my solution is completely unfair, two people could be convicted of heinous crimes beyond a reasonable doubt. One is beyond all doubt, the other not. One lives, one dies. It isn't fair, but they are convicted felons. I don't give a crap about being fair to them, I just don't want them to ever get out. So if capital punishment is more cost effective than incarceration, off with their heads.

            Also, there is this guy who cut me off on the 401 yesterday…. him too.

        • Says so right there in what you quoted:

          'to deter the offender and other persons from committing offences'

          • It also says other stuff. I didn't say it wasn't a objective of sentencing, I said it isn't the only objective. Good try though.

          • Funny thing that. Most paragraphs DO say 'other stuff'.

            Of course it's not the only objective, why would it be?

        • Fair enough – if society decides that criminals need to pay a steeper price for their crimes, that's a decision that can be justified, provided a large enough consensus supports it.

          However, if more money is spent on incarcerating criminals, that leaves less money for other things – some of which, perhaps, may be more important. From what I've read, the government hasn't even bothered to worry about the cost of its new legislation – the important thing is getting the votes, and never mind about actually governing the country.

          • Yea, I guess the cost is a concern, again, a trade off. You can say that about literally every government run program though, because you can almost always point to something we "value more". And the same argument could be employed to lower maximum sentences. How low do we go? Is 15 years for murder sufficient? What about aggravated sexual assault? Should a couple of years cover it, if it saves us some cash? Should we eliminate some of the more minor crimes on the books entirely? But yea, I think we're generally on the same page.

          • And the same argument could be employed to lower maximum sentences. How low do we go? Is 15 years for murder sufficient? What about aggravated sexual assault? Should a couple of years cover it, if it saves us some cash?

            This is a straw man argument – no one is suggesting that sentences be reduced.

            I agree that it's hard to find a balance between competing social goods, both of which society values, when we can't afford more of both.

          • This is a straw man argument – no one is suggesting that sentences be reduced.

            I'm not saying anyone is, but if we're concerned about the cost of justice administration in this country, and weighing the importance of cost against the goals outlined above, why aren't they? Why are the current maximum/minimum sentences some sort of necessary baseline where any increase in sentences leads to a close analysis of cost increase, but no one is making the corrolary argument of 'how much does it currently cost, and should we be spending that money elsewhere on things we value more by lowering sentences, letting more people out of jail early, having fewer crimes on the books, etc.?'

          • I think some thoughtful advocates of decriminalizating drugs are often motivated by much of what you note here.

          • Yea, that example actually came to mind as I wrote that as the only example I can think of. But they can fall back on the 'no harm to others' nature of the crime – it's usually at that threshold where you start to hear such musings.

          • Fair point to make. Though I tend to hold the criminalization of drugs as responsible for a lot of gang activity, petty theft, etc., or essentially creating crime and violence where none would exist otherwise.

            But you're right, somebody shooting up themselves isn't quite the same thing as beating in another's head with a shovel. The latter is more problematic when one considers lesser penalties.

          • The latter is more problematic when one considers lesser penalties.

            Last month, while awaiting an appendectomy, I shared a hospital room in Emerg with a young mother who had been violently beaten and raped by three men several years ago. She suffered significant internal injuries, including the loss of her spleen, and the resulting health problems have affected her life ever since. She's now in danger of losing a kidney.

            All three of her convicted assailants have now been paroled after spending what seems (to me, and to her) a ridiculously short amount of time in prison.

          • Considering how much pain she must have gone through I doubt any time the men would have done inside would be much consolation to her.
            The victim's feeling are her own and she shouldn't dictate how we judge.

          • CR, I had peritonitis last month, 30 hours in the emergency room at PL , they send me there from RV after spending 11 hours :)

          • I was at Foothills, and I was luckier than you because I only had to wait 13 hours in Emerg before the operation! My surgeon called it "Appy night" because he performed seven appendectomies in a row that night (normally he does one or two).

            That really sucks that you had to wait so long for your peritonitis. What an ordeal. Hope you're feeling better! :)

          • I know, for some reason they were really busy and thought I could hold on a little longer until my appendix bursted, what a fun that was! I am good know, I hope you fell better too!

          • Relevance?

        • Voters prefer to pay for policies which seek to answer a problem (i.e. crime) not make it worse (i.e. crime).

          Stop being obtuse.

          • Strong retort, and a very convincing argument. You should try to get it published.

    • Neocons don't just condemn crime – they equate toughness on it with building jails, extending sentences, and removing judges' discretion where possible (minimum sentences, for example). Most of these measures cost considerable money and resources, so it's not unfair to criticize them (we only have so much money to spend) if they are being enacted to feed emotional needs, rather than measurably increasing public security. And if crime rates are generally falling, it makes such moves potentially more ideological, and less pragmatically defensible.

      Also, clinging to a "tough on crime" stance means the government must necessarily ignore or downplay lessening crime rates (for political reasons, and probably for internal ideological cohesion). Which means they aren't asking the useful questions of *why* crime rates are falling, and if there might not be non-legal reasons – social-structural, I suppose – that ought to be understood and potentially harnessed for further gains.

      And even the act of condemning crime, while as inarguable as being in favour of sunshine and childrens' laughter, can blunt our ability to examine the evidence in a meaningful matter. That hypothetical single murder is far more likely to be committed by an individual known to the victim , so perhaps we need to condemn (and appropriately punish) the crime, but also condemn (and work to remedy) whatever the heck social conditions or patterns contribute to such realities.

      • I was in complete agreement until this: "And if crime rates are generally falling, it makes such moves potentially more ideological, and less pragmatically defensible."

        I still fail to see what 'falling crime rates' have to do with whether or not the policy itself is good or bad, ideological or practical, etc.

        Which means they aren't asking the useful questions of *why* crime rates are falling, and if there might not be non-legal reasons – social-structural, I suppose – that ought to be understood and potentially harnessed for further gains.

        This gets us into some pretty precarious waters. Basically people think crime is caused by whatever they don't like, and drawing the links is quite difficult. But I don't disagree with what you've said. I think the problem is that people strongly disagree on whatever the heck "whatever the heck social conditions or patterns contribute to such realities". And I don't see how "condemning crime" would necessarily blunt our ability to look at root causes.

        • If there's a brush fire outside my house being doused by a driving rainstorm that just started, it gets a bit silly for me to demand my neighbours begin throwing buckets of water on it at the same time. While it's true buckets of water put out fire, they might be all but meaningless in addition to the rain that now falls. While one might argue any little bit helps, the fact is my neighbours might be better served doing something else with their energies, given that throwing buckets of water precludes one from other activities for that time. (Forgive the lame analogy – I'm squeezing this in between housework duties!).

          A policy can be a bad policy if its opportunity costs are not justified. As such, context does matter. Also, tough on crime approaches never operationalize "vengence" or "victims' rights", and thus treat these as constants in need of attention. Again, this calls the opportunity cost of jails and longer senteces (etc.) into question when crime rates are falling, because fear and vengence are rarely quantified and can always be utilized to justify the utilization of resources (potentially wrongly, I'd suggest).

          I share your hesitation with regard to focussing too much on 'root causes' of crime – such things can easily prove as unsubstantiated as neocon cries for more jails and longer sentences. That said, I want the safest society possible for my kids. "Tough on crime" as a short-hand for more jails,etc., tends to completely ignore the fact that certain factors are somewhat predictive of offenders (backgrounds, communities, families, etc…) and that we likely lose a chance to be safer (in the long run, which has little political value) by failing to explore how we might (or might not) address such underlying structural conditions.

          • I really don't think your brush fire analogy is useful. I mean, I see what you're saying, but I would say a more precise analogy would be admitting that the brush fire, still a very real concern, appears to be slowly dwindling, but we're not sure why. And we're not sure whether that trend will continue or the fire will flare up again in the future. In that case, yes, I would ask my neighbours to help me douse it. But again, that's not perfect, because you can't eliminate crime entirely the way a fire can be put out, so even my correction doesn't add much to the analogy. With respect, I think I'll ignore it for the time being.

            And I'm not sure I get your point on opportunity costs, which I'll assume is more a case of me being a bit thick than poor articulation on your part. So If you wanted to elaborate I'd appreciate it.

          • You're kind to a fault! The analogy was poor.

            Let me take one last swing at opportunity costs. Declining crime rates call the opportunity cost of more robust sentencing, etc., more sharply into question than would increasing crime rates. This holds true (I'd argue) whether one is trumpeting 'tough on crime' as a means of enhancing safety (because if rates are falling, there may be other reasons to explore, or limited gains from expanding existing tools), or if one is simply driven by vengence and a desire to play to 'victim's rights', since such things aren't easily subject to measure and are ultimately malleable for one's ideological needs.

            Without going all structural-liberal root cause on this, it can be reasonably suggested that societal safety can be enhanced by measures outside typical 'tough on crime' policies (that's the opportunity cost, in part).

            But evidence is everything, and if it can be shown that more jails and longer senteces will make a safer society, I'm generally all for it. But it's an expensive way to make us simply feel better, with no measurable results.

            If I still don't make sense, I apologize.

          • Sean – I think I get it this time. Maybe. So, the more something is a problem, the more societal cost there is involved in not dealing with it, and the less it's a problem, the less societal cost is involved in not dealing with it (and investing money elsewhere, that might deal with the problem more efficiently for the same cost). To use an exaggerated example (so that it makes sense to me, I'm not always the best with nuance), if we have 1 murderer a year, the cost in not sentencing her appropriately is far less than if we had 1000 murderers a year, and sentenced none of them appropriately? In that vein, perhaps you're suggesting that it's an occasion of diminishing marginal utility, where although we might not want to drop the minimum sentence for crime A by 5 years, because it would result in 10 more crimes, we might nonetheless want to consider the fact that the deterrence effect of increasing a minimum sentence by 5 years for crime A would only deter a single instance of crime A, while costing $1M. As such, we might determine that the same $1M was better spent on decreasing poverty, thereby (we'll say) preventing 5 crimes. Am I in the ballpark?

            Despite my detractors, I'm never deliberately obtuse. But it happens. So if I've entirely missed the point, I think perhaps now would be a good time for you to assess the benefits that would likely be derived by trying to explain it to me again, against the opportunity available to you to more efficiently employ your time. :)

          • Exactly. And thank you for struggling with my convoluted attempts – some days my language skills are just not up to snuff. Thank goodness there's smarter folks than I around here to render my fragments into better packages than I ever could!

        • Are you a lawyer?

          The Conservatives' crime bill is advertised as a solution to a Conservative perception Canada has a crime problem. All crime is bad. Most people who study how best to reduce the need for prisons and effectively combat crime have written the Conservatives proposals will make crime worse, not better. Therein lies the problem. Conservatives disagree, but are unable to articulate their disagreement in a meaningful way. This is because there is nothing meaningful behind their preferred policies – only emotional swill designed for maximum appeal to aging baby boomers.

    • I think part of the problem is that the framing of the issue isn't:

      "We've been doing a good job bringing down the crime rate, but we think that with these measures we can do even better".

      Instead it's:

      "We live a violent society where walking down the street…ANY street can get you KILLED! WE want to protect you, but the LIBERALS DON'T! THEY want to set the KILLER and RAPISTS FREE!"

      • Yea, and that's silly, for sure. I'm not defending Conservative rhetoric or political posturing.

      • That would be extremely refreshing…..perhaps someone could remind me of the drawback(s) to that approach to public policy.

      • "… because everyone knows that the KILLER and RAPISTS VOTE LIBERAL!"

        barf.

      • I was killed twice yesterday and raped once. Do I have to include that when I write about my communte for the long-form of the census.

  9. I find it concerning that victims of crime or the organizations which represent them are sometimes considered to have a special status when it comes to commenting on crime. It goes without saying that those who are victimized have a right to speak (I've been victimized myself, in a minor way). They have an experience of the justice system that needs to be heard and taken into account. But their interests do not AUTOMATICALLY outweigh other interests. And their conclusions and recommendations — just like those put forth by others — should be based on reality and evidence, and not only outrage and emotion.

    When people experience horrendous acts like a murder, a rape, etc., it must be a shattering experience. And the emotions brought to the fore by that sort of experience may well cloud logical response to issues of crime and punishment.

    • Couldn't agree more. I'm reminded of the situation following the Dawson College shootings, when this young man, tragic as his situation was, was given wall to wall press coverage in support of his national gun control campaign.

    • " And their conclusions and recommendations — just like those put forth by others — should be based on reality and evidence, and not only outrage and emotion."

      Well put.

  10. Canada is a safer country now than in 1999.

    If anyone's intereted in a counterpoint to Martin's sweeping opening gambit, see Bob Tarantino in The Mark.

    • it is an interesting read, and it is only proof that we need nuanced, intelligent and evidence-based corrections policy and programming, rather than "soft on crime coddling of prisoners" or "hard on crime rack em and stack em superprisons(tm)". This was another good read: http://www.nationalpost.com/todays-paper/sound+pr

    • Interesting article with stats worth accentuating. Although, my brother (who was recently scammed out of several hundred dollars from a counterfeiter) would disagree with counterfeiting not being a concern.

    • Excellent link. Thanks.

      I agree that Patriquin's opening statement "Canada is a safer country now than in 1999" is dubious. Rates for some types of violent crimes have decreased; rates for others have increased. I don't think that the evidence on hand is sufficient to support the sweeping generalization that Canadians are safer from violent crime.

  11. A little sickening, isn't it?

    Anti-intellectualism is terrifying actually.

    Who care what the Ivory Tower types say, their statistics are meaningless next to the Internet's ability to confirm my preconceptions.

    • Anti-intellectualism is indeed terrifying. In every nutbar revolution in history the intellectuals are the first ones sent to the wall.

  12. Speaking of shooting the messenger, it would've been nice if Patriquin had provided some context for that statement from Senator Boisvenu (it is "Boisvenu" by the way, not "Bienvenu", Patriquin) alongside the actual quote.

    For example, as I understand it he was referring to his contention that disappearances are not counted in the crime rate even though they've risen dramatically in recent years….which might be a fair point, given that many disappearances (e.g. those involving children) might be considered a serious crime, and often a murder.

    It would be delightful if Patriquin put more effort into reporting all sides of an issue rather than furthering a political agenda.

    • Curious.. does every journalist who happens to say the Conservatives are acting silly or irrational must in your mind be furthering a political agenda?

      • No, as you'd quickly discover if you click on my name and scroll back through my comments concerning the census or the budget. Not everyone here makes assessments based entirely on partisan affiliation.

        • "Not everyone here makes assessments based entirely on partisan affiliation."

          I actually went back and read your tripe. You are 100% partisan.

          My opinion would be that you consistently try to pervert and derail any thread or argument which makes the Conservatives look bad. Sort of like reading an article and rather than engaging with the argument, focusing on some minor point which you claim has been over-looked in order to get people arguing over the fine print rather than the big picture.

          • So, in your opinion, Gaunilon is a tripe-spewing partisan hack who makes dishonest arguments, and Olaf is "obtuse".

            That just tells me that your opinions are worthless.

          • Agreed. Just because you nailed Olaf doesn't excuse the gross inaccuracy with regard to Guanilon.

          • I was just about to reply "Agreed – Olaf is certainly not obtuse."

    • So what you seem to be saying is that if we don't know we should consider it a crime??

      • No, what I'm saying is that some of those cases may be crimes, and that therefore the stats may in fact be misleading, and that therefore Boisvenu may have a point, which would be neat to know about if so….but there's no way to tell from Patriquin's shoot-the-messenger approach in lieu of journalism.

  13. Good post. Now can you do the same kind of analysis on MADD please?

  14. " ….. which analyses police-reported crime. Not to suggest its all peaches and cream, but we should pat ourselves on our collective back. We live in a place that is safer and less violent than it used to be."

    The key part of sentence is police-reported crime. If people actually took the time to look at more stats than what's in front of their noses, they would see that number of people reporting crimes is falling because people don't have faith in justice system created by " … sociologists, criminologists, defence lawyers and Liberals …".

    Who cares that crime isn't actually falling, lets give experts a collective pat on back for creating a system that deludes people into thinking crime is falling when in fact it isn't. Well done experts!

    "" Every five years, Statistics Canada conducts the General Social Survey. It asks a representative sample of Canadians, among other things, whether they have been crime victims.

    From the last survey in 2004 (the next one is being conducted now, with the findings to be released next year) Statistics Canada reached the following conclusions.

    First, progressively fewer Canadians who are crime victims are reporting the crime to police — only 34% in 2004, compared to 37% in 1999.

    Second, based on the GSS, an estimated 92% of sexual assaults were never reported to police, 46% of break-ins, 51% of motor vehicle/parts thefts, 61% of physical assaults and 54% of robberies." The Sun, Oct 2009

  15. Bergkamp: supporting the value of accurate statistics since July 23rd, 2010.

    • That's funny, the GSS is voluntary.

      All I can think of is 'lies, damned lies and statistics' when I read people's comments about how sanctity of the numbers has to be maintained in order to create fantastic public policy or we all have to accept state coercion because statisticians and other academics are too cheap to pay market rates.

      Every year we get headlines about falling police reported crime but rarely, if ever, is it mentioned that Canadians are reporting less crime because they have lost faith in the system, not because there is less crime.

      And then we get self satisfied articles or blog posts like this one crowing about how fantastic liberal justice system is and aren't we great …. even though "92% of sexual assaults", mostly women probably, were not reported to authorities. This is not something to be proud of but latte liberal crowd will never understand that.

      • I'm all on board with the "lies, damned lies and statistics" sentiment, but I assume you're missing the irony in promoting the sentiment following an argument entirely premised on the objective value of such statistics.

        "Statistics are worthless and constantly abused! I mean, if you don't believe me, take a look at these statistics I have!"

        • I am off to dinner, so this will be quick.

          1) People like stats, particularly from StatsCan. Provide anecdotes in your arguments and people demand your numbers/proof. If I start posting comments about how crime isn't falling without some proof to satisfy liberals, there would be more snark and abuse than normal.

          2) General Social Survey discombobulates liberals because they really want to believe crime is constantly falling and they like to pretend GSS doesn't exist.

          I am more of a "lies. damned lies …" person but here on Macleans it has to be different. I don't take what I post here seriously all the time, sometimes I prefer hyperbole or rabble rousing.

  16. This and the census long form imbroglio just means that for Happer and his cronies they still think they are in opposition. We should grant them what they really want… Governing means to take the facts and the situation as they are and making valid decisions whether they popular or not! Leadership is to present a position or policy, and explain and present the case that such a policy is the way to go. Leadership of this king is beyond the intellectual capacity of this so call government.

  17. The government KNOWS that these "tough" policies will increase crime. they are doing it deliberately to impose a for-profit, US-style prison system onto Canada.

    this policy has worked wonders in the US: lots of crime, lots of jails, lots of news fodder, and a handful of very wealthy people are getting even wealthier at the expense of taxpayers.

    THAT is what Harper wants for canada. Lucky for him, the public is so monumentally stupid, they are actually falling for it!

    Harper is an evil genius, and he cannot be stopped.

    A majority is inevitable. we will become a theocratic dictatorship within a year.

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