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Mandatory sentencing will not deter drug crimes..

…anymore then capital punishment deters murder.

Let me add my voice to the growing number of Liberal bloggers who have said they oppose the Liberal Party supporting the Conservative government’s bill to impose automatic jail terms for drug crimes:

The bill was lambasted by 13 of the 16 witnesses who appeared before the House of Commons justice committee during public hearings this spring. Two U.S. critics warned minimum mandatory sentences for drug crimes have flooded U.S. prisons in the last 25 years, with a disproportionate effect on drug addicts, the poor, the young, blacks and other minorities. The U.S. surpasses every country by far in incarceration rates, while the drug business there flourishes…Several witnesses warned the justice committee the proposed legislation will fill jails with drug addicts rather than drug kingpins, who will continue to thrive while small-time dealers are knocked out of commission. Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, when questioned at the committee, declined to supply any evidence from other countries that mandatory minimum sentences have made any difference in deterring drug crime.

So, the Conservative Justice Minister is more or less admitting this is all just for show, to try and score cheap political points with the public, rather then basing it on any evidence or facts it works, and yet the Liberals are supporting this?

There are 2 reasons I can think of why the Liberals are supporting this:

– It’s because we’ve drifted politically to the right on this issue, and the caucus and Michael Ignatieff actually believe this measure will work, which would be disappointing;

– the Liberals are afraid if they don’t support this measure, the Conservatives will try to use it to accuse them of being “soft” on crime, which would be appalling to me that the Liberal Party is caving on this and supporting a bad policy only because they want to neutralize it as an election issue. The Conservatives are going to accuse us of that anyhow, whether we support this bill or not, so why support a bad bill when it won’t stop them from trying to use that talking point?

Note that this bill is not a bill of non-confidence ; the government will not fall if this doesn’t pass, so it’s not like the Liberals would be forcing an election over this if they voted against.

The Conservatives base a lot of their policies on crime and “law and order” on perception, not on hard facts and evidence (in fact, Harper and others have famously dismissed hard evidence and facts and stats when defending his “law and order” platform) and I’m very disappointed to see we as a party are supporting the Conservatives line on this. I’ve not been that hard on Ignatieff since he came to power with his policies, but this move is a very disappointing one to say the least, and I hope the progressive wing of the Liberal Party will work to get this policy or view modified/expunged/removed from official Liberal policy, and convince the caucus and the leader that a failed US drug policy will not work in Canada either.

UPDATE: I should mention that on Facebook, I’m a member of the group “Canadians Against The Conservative Plan For An American Style Drug War”. It already has 1300 members, and I encourage you to join the site if you’re on Facebook, whether you’re Liberal or not, because it’s going to take public pressure to show the Liberals there is no appetite for a failed US style drug policy here in Canada (but you’ll notice if you look there are a fair # of Liberals on his group already).

UPDATE 2 @ 10:11 am: Jim Curran also adds his name to the list of Liberal bloggers who oppose this move by the Liberal Party.

UPDATE 3 @ 11:26 am: While Law is Cool isn’t a Liberal blog per se, Omar is a Liberal who happens to be a member of that group blog, and he posts his own blogpost today opposing the mandatory minimum sentences as well, though he does make the effort to show some Liberal MP’s “reservations” with this bill. Not good enough. If you have reservations, either offer amendments to it, or defeat it.

UPDATE 4 @ 12:14 pm: Steve is right; this is nothing probably but naked politics that the Liberal Party is playing here, because we’re afraid of getting framed by the Conservatives, when we should be aggressively going out there to counteract their fear campaign with facts and logic. That’s how the Democrats finally shook off the Republicans doing the same thing to them on terrorism. We should be doing the same.

UPDATE 5 @ 2:53 pm: Runesmith jumps in, opposing the measure as well… and urging folks to write to their Liberal MP’s or the Liberal leadership, expressing that opposition to the Liberals supporting Bill C-15.

UPDATE 6 @ 4:10 pm: Yet another Liberal blogger on record as opposing the Liberals decision to support this Bill.


44 comments to Mandatory sentencing will not deter drug crimes..

  • Stan

    Mike says:

    “Except here in Canada or in Europe, where there have been no state executions since 1961, and yet our crime rate is an order of magnitude lower than in the US”


    Quite wrong in fact.
    Overall crime rates are lower in the US than in Canada.
    Now if by ‘an order of magnitude lower’ you meant ‘higher’, then please accept my humble apologies.

    I’ll leave it up to you to compare the European and US crime rates.
    While you’re at it, you might just want to compare the rates of VIOLENT crime in the UK vs the USA. (hint, one of them has a violent crime rate over 5 times higher than the other).

    You might want to look up the definition of ‘order of magnitude, either that or base your opinions on facts instead of liberal myths.

    Your mileage may vary…

    But as I said before, if you want to prove your assertion that capital punishment does not deter murder, refer to something that could be considered a controlled experiment instead of mindlessly quoting made up ‘facts’ comparing different geographical and political regions.

    You do wish to base your opinions on the best information available, don’t you?

    Garbage in, garbage out?

  • Stan

    “””Mike Reply:
    June 10th, 2009 at 3:00 pm

    @Stan, Except here in Canada or in Europe, where there have been no state executions since 1961, and yet our crime rate is an order of magnitude lower than in the US, so low that single digit increases in the actual numbers of murders can cause a seeming 10% increase in the rate….where ONE counterfeiter can cause the crime rate to skyrocket $300%.

    In fact, our crime rate has been dropping steadily since 1991, even without the death penalty, including the murder rate (it reached a 35 year low in 2003 and again last year).

    But I guess a “study” from a right-wing “think tank” that confuses causation with correlation is all the proof you need eh? “””

    You really can’t think any clearer than that?
    Compare the murder rates, not the crime rates, before and after changes in a variable, ie, before and after moratoriums on the death penalty, in the same jurisdiction.
    That’s how the big people think.
    Your argument is pitifully illogical.
    Reread your grade 8 science text, you are the one confused.

  • Dillon – that writeup in “Secrets of Van” is a joke. Abbotsford has the highest crime rate only in the Lower Mainland (although BC cities are still much safer than Alberta, Sask, and Manitoba cities). Prince George has higher crime per capita. You seem to talk of Vancouver like it’s “under seige” or something – and that’s a very typical “scare-mongering” reformer way of talking about crime to “big city folks”. Greater Vancouver suffers from less crime per capita than most of the Prairie cities – which should poke holes in the theories espoused by many reformers who seem to feel that the “big cities with all that “crowding” and “new people” are the causes of crime”. Couldn’t be further from the truth.

    There are legal reasons why the crown pursues certain charges over others. Ease of conviction is one reason. That’s a bit of a side conversation.

    My concern is with the assertion that Abby is a “nice town”, so there wasn’t any hardship involved in these peoples’ lives. I AGREE. There wasn’t. Most come from middle-class to upper middle class homes. So WHY are they “gangstas” and “gangsta wannabees”? It’s not because of some hardship. I live out here, so I know a little about what I’m talking about. It’s because it’s “cool”. That’s right. The PROBLEM is with the “gun culture”. Ask ANY of these kids what their favorite movie is. GUARANTEE 9/10 TIMES IT IS SCARFACE. What do they look up to?

    The “Wild West” mentality that has come with the imported American gun culture (and imported American guns) is what’s ruining our youth. More money spent on daycare, and on youth development is key to fighting this. The messages getting to kids is the issue. Gun-lovin’ video games like Halo are among their favorite. Movies that glorify gangsterism and gun violence are like “bibles” to these kids. How-to manuals.

    Parental involvement and responsibility is a huge concern. If Mommy or Daddy says, “Sure we’ll lease the Escalade for the family car, and lower it with 25” wheels and dark smoked windows”… If they have no problem with their kid going and beating up another kid who they have an issue with (and celebrate the fact that their kid is tough)… If they have no idea where their Grade 9 or 10 kid (because that’s when it starts) is on a given evening… If they work two jobs and leave their kid with no supervision, the keys to the liquor cabinet, and money “to buy pizza”… If Mommy and Daddy have no problem buying their kid the typical “gangsta uniform” with the $200 t-shirts, $150 ball caps, etc. and the thick gold chains… If they don’t get involved with their school… If kids aren’t encouraged (no, PUSHED) into constructive activities like sports, or other hobbies…

    If we aren’t doing this, then we are failing our kids. It will require a cultural change. More involvement with kids. Idle minds are responsible for these challenges. A gun-lovin’ culture is responsible.

    Where do drugs fit in? Another one of the “idle” kids’ “activities”. When I was in high school, it was always the “burn-out” kids who did the dope. They were the most likely to use, abuse, commit petty crimes, etc. Now it’s still that group, but it’s morphed into more of a “cool” thing for others too. When your favorite stars are doing it, why not you, right? We can argue til we’re blue in the face whether the drugs cause the crime, or whether it’s the child’s exposure to a fostering environment, but research clearly concludes it is the environment and addictive personalities which cause the usage. The crime is clearly an end result of the dependence – and lack of money to purchase the focus of the dependency.

    If we’re really honest about “causation”, then the “gun culture” is a very important part of the equation. Family influence (or lack of) is a huge part of the equation. Environmental factors are the key.

    Statistics prove that “mandatory minimums” are only empty sabre-rattling. Our crime rates (in all Canadian cities) are lower than centers where mandatory minimums exist. The US has created a culture of “prison farms”, and it doesn’t help anyone. Unfortunately, the Canadian public has become so overwhelmed by the “tough on crime” empty rhetoric, that the truth has disappeared. It is also unfortunate, that – knowing the false facts – our political community will need to play to the feeling among the people. One example of the dangers of getting too close to direct “democracy” – or what we can refer to as “mob rule”. It’s almost like well-to-do European citizens during the Inquisition… they – to a person – toed the Church’s line regarding the Earth being flat, “center of the Universe”, etc…. Eventually, science will triumph over fear, superstition, etc.

  • Looks like emails are being blocked from people letting the caucus know their displeasure. Therefore, people who want to oppose C-15 should also call the OLO at 613-996-6740 and let him know that way.

  • Oh for pete’s sake Dillon how frickin tiring. Just blather with absolutely nothing to back it up. Try reading last years Stats Canada report for the decrease in crime information that doesn’t exist. Talk about living in a bubble.

  • dillon


    Maybe a compromise is to only impose a mandatory minimum on repeat traffickers. Let the Judge deal with the root cause defence for first time offenders.

  • dillon

    Scott Tribe and Woman at Mile 0

    I said the mandatory minimums apply to traffickers. That statement is accurate and correct.

    Hw did Giuliani clean up New York City crime? By giving free drugs and needles? Time to grow up kids. If you have a study showing a decrease in crime in Canada name it.

  • Ya these theories have all worked well in the US to deter crime Dillon with 1 in 100 adults now in jail in the US. The crime rate continues to fall each year in Canada regardless of the media’s constant focus on it.
    Your statements are totally inaccurate. Research clearly shows that mandatory minimums do not deter crime.

  • dillon

    walks with coffee

    “judges will be stripped of their discretion on whether or not to incarcerate drug traffickers, including offenders who grow and then sell as few as five marijuana plants.”

    Mandatory minimums will apply to “traffickers” not users.

    No jail time means no punishment. No punishment means no deterrent. No deterrent means turf wars like in Toronto and Vancouver.

    The issue of legalization has been decided. No. So let’s get on with reducing drug use and treating the addicted. If Iggy is a user say so.

    • Walkswithcoffee


      I do not agree with treating users as criminals (it is a health issue).

      I do not agree that traffickers should be absolved from responsibility for what they sell.

      That in no way means that I believe in mandatory sentencing – context and degree of harm matters and judges should be able to balance those issues.

      I absolutely support the distinction between A. traffickers and B. users; the traffickers should be held accountable for what they sell; users have a health issue and should not be treated as criminals.


      Cheers, Eugene Parks

  • Walkswithcoffee

    dillon wrote, “One of you should read the Bill before spouting off. Or are you saying that addiction to dealing is a health issue?”

    I’m sure everyone would like to respectfully respond, but one cannot tell who you are talking to and what you are referring to.

    Most of us from Center-Right to Left believe that drug use is a health issue. On the other hand, we don’t all seem to agree on the legal issues and responsibilities of trading / selling / trafficing of drugs.

    I land on the side that believes, you should not be able sell “product” without assuming responsibility for what you are selling.

    When selling crap, the sellor should not be free from the consequences.

  • Hmm wasn’t Emery charged with trafficking for passing a joint back in 2004? Give me a break here Dillon.

  • dillon

    One of you should read the Bill before spouting off. Or are you saying that addiction to dealing is a health issue?

  • Kelsey

    First off, we aren’t going to an election before the summer. That means that any of the “damage” incurred on opposing this would have been completely forgotten by the electorate over the summer before the next election.

    Second off, why would our party fast track this legislation? There is a very good possibility that we could have held it up in committee before the end of the summer session.

    Third, it is simply impossible for us to keep supporting these “law and order” hot potatoes that they keep lobbing at us. If we give them an inch, they will take a mile as they demonstrated this week by announcing three justice reform packages in one week. Trust me, they will have more coming.

    Most importantly, we missed a crucial opportunity. The Conservatives have just announced a disastrous policy to axe the faint hope clause. Now, in terms of standing up to Harper, which bill would have been the easiest to fight. The faint hope clause or drug mandatory minimums? Between those two, drug mandatory minimums would have been much easier to face off in the public on and trust me, supporting a complete axing of the faint hope clause will stir great discontent in the party just like mandatory minimums did–only this time, our optics on the issue are even worse.

    Were in a terrible strategic position thanks to our spinelessness. The only way I can see us hitting back at them is by proposing policy that can divide conservatives.

    On a side note, I’ve been giving much thought about the tory law and order “overload” as of late and I think our response should be: It’s the economy, stupid. Why are we clogging parliament with obscure justice legislation during the middle of a recession?

  • If this didn’t go through I think it would do very little to change the channel from the Conservatives massive economic errors. Obviously plenty of people (Liberals for sure) do not agree with this Conservative policy anyways. Last time I checked the opposition made up 62% of Canadians. Moreover the economy provides good reason for not implementing a policy that increases costs substantially for Canadian taxpayer during an economic crisis. And don’t give me that about it being easy to change it either. If laws were easy to change would we still be struggling with 1/2 decade long debates like Marijuana decriminalization? It’s not even a #$%^ confidence vote. Very disappointing.
    Finally I think that the argument that when the government changes over we can do anything we want and all will be OK is pretty annoying. At the moment we are still in line for up to 3 more years of Conservative governance and we cannot take these guys out on our own.

    • kwittet

      @Woman at Mile 0, 62% of canadians are with the oposition? considering that An estimated 59.1 per cent of Canadians cast votes. Just like a statitician skew the numbers to suit your point?

  • I’ll repeat myself. I don’t believe in mandatory minimums, but truly – understanding the way of doing things in Ottawa – this won’t get very far. We will win the next election before any real changes occur. MI knows and supports the fact that addiction is a disease – not a crime.

    Patience. We will “fix” this. It is “un-do-able”. Letting Conservatives change the channel when millions of Canadians are losing their jobs, or losing opportunities… that is not so “un-do-able”.

  • You got a mention in The Star.

    Your objections have been duly noted. Good job.

  • ridenrain

    A classic example of saying anything to get in power.
    That “not a policy meeting” in Vancouver would have been a great place to have discussed this. A quick tour of the east end would have shown that whats happening now just isn’t getting it done.

  • Let’s repeat: this is NOT a confidence motion. There is no reason why the Liberals cannot defeat this hopelessly flawed stinker and hold their heads up high.

    As far as I can see, the choice here is between being seen as ‘soft on crime’ and being seen as ‘no different from the Conservatives’. The former will only really concern die-hard Conservatives. The latter might have a broader effect on those who are on the fence.

  • Honestly

    Honestly, folks, I doubt any large number of “swing voters” will go to the poll worried about drug dealers and their clients’ jail sentences.

    Yes, it is an issue. No, it is not a ballot question.

    So this is one point in the column for Harper. He will not be turfed due to this issue. There are other issues that could cause him to lose his job as PM, but this ain’t the one.

    By the same token, I believe Harper will WIN some votes by creating the law that removes parole as a possibility for convincted murderers. Unfortunately, the average Joe Blowe in Canada will look at this on the surface and think it is a great idea.

    Harper has made some smart moves and I hope the Liberals start acting SMARTER than Harper. They need to do that to win.

  • I just sent an email to every member of the Liberal caucus, urging them to defeat this stupid thing. My letter is on my blog, along with a link to a handy email list of every Liberal MP so you all can do the same.

    Scott – maybe you could send this around to your Facebook group?

  • Stan

    Unemployment rates are the highest in 11 years?
    Wow, that’s like, uh, eleven years!
    Pretnear a decade by golly! In fact even more than a decade!!

  • Stan

    Uh, capital punishment DOES deter murder. You can look it up.

    • @Stan, And the fact that the US has the highest murder rate is the Western World and is the only Western country to have the death penalty supports that it deters murder, somehow?

      Boy, that really supports your assertion.. how about YOU look things up before you come on spouting nonsense?

      • Stan

        Well for starters you should learn to think logically. Your assertion in no way proves whether capital punishment deters murder or not, ie, there are many other factors involved, as the anti-American bigots love to remind us, there is a high level of gun ownership there.

        Now if you were to look up an actual scientific study and quote that, it might further your argument.
        I’m maybe in a minority here but shouldn’t we base our opinions and decisions on facts instead of liberal myths?
        You know, ‘garbage in,garbage out’?

        “Using a panel data set of over 3,000 counties from 1977 to 1996, Professors Hashem Dezhbakhsh, Paul R. Rubin, and Joanna M. Shepherd of Emory University found that each execution, on average, results in 18 fewer murders.[17] Using state-level panel data from 1960 to 2000, Professors Dezhbakhsh and Shepherd were able to compare the relationship between executions and murder incidents before, during, and after the U.S. Supreme Court’s death penalty moratorium.[18] They found that executions had a highly significant negative relationship with murder incidents. Additionally, the implementation of state moratoria is associated with the increased incidence of murders.”

        • @Stan, Except here in Canada or in Europe, where there have been no state executions since 1961, and yet our crime rate is an order of magnitude lower than in the US, so low that single digit increases in the actual numbers of murders can cause a seeming 10% increase in the rate….where ONE counterfeiter can cause the crime rate to skyrocket $300%.

          In fact, our crime rate has been dropping steadily since 1991, even without the death penalty, including the murder rate (it reached a 35 year low in 2003 and again last year).

          But I guess a “study” from a right-wing “think tank” that confuses causation with correlation is all the proof you need eh?

  • KC

    WG – What a load of hooey. The crime bill wasnt a confidence measure so knocking it down wouldn’t have had any reprecussions.

    Its despicable to see how many Liberals think that a massive prison building program that ruins the lives of thousands of Canadians is no biggie that can be revisited later.

  • Scott I’m with you completely… but do you sense the “channel” being changed? Unfortunately – for Joe Public – this dog will hunt. This was a “lowest common denominator” issue that would have created a “wedge” that won’t happen now.

    Meanwhile, while we all watch the “crime channel”, or the “Lisa Raitt f’n channel”, the Economy burns – and TODAY 11-year highs in unemployment came out. THAT will be our focus in the election, mere weeks away. Conservative incompetence, and Canadians out of work.

    Don’t worry about the so-called “tough on crime” bs. We’ll fix that, as soon as we’re running the Justice file. It’s a pretty easy fix, and no damage will be done. It won’t even make it into “law”.

    Remember: There are “go-backs” and “do-overs” on this type of thing. There are no do-overs on homeless children, starving and homeless families, and the specter of losing one’s job.

    To my Liberal friends I say, “patience”. This dog won’t hunt… It’s the “Economy Stupid” (to Harper)…

  • Kelsey

    What particularly bothers me is that we aren’t even trying to oppose this, were fast tracking it.

    The Liberals actually sped up committee hearings to get this passed. The didn’t even try to hold it up. That has me more angered than anything else.

  • Walkswithcoffee

    Drug use is a health issue
    Drug trafficing is a criminal issue

    • @Walkswithcoffee,

      Actually Walks, what it should be is merely that drug ABUSE is a health issue and drug trafficking is a legitimate business venture. Treat drugs the way we treat beer or smokes and you’d see its use drop and the criminal element get out (as they did when booze was made legal again in the US in 1934).

      More on topic, how come we are looking to adopt this kind of nonsense when even the US is moving away from it because it doesn’t work? Does Harper own stock in a private prison firm or something?

      • Walkswithcoffee


        Mike, I see by your post we don’t agree; so we will have to respectfully agree to disagree. I ment what I said. i.e.

        1. Using drugs is a health issue
        2. Trafficing drugs is criminal

        Adding a third point to directly respond to your point of view:

        2b. The sale of drugs should be regulated according to risk to the user; those that sell drugs beyond their regulated uses (trafficing) should be sanctioned based on the risk to the user.

        Agreeing to disagree.

        Cheers, Eugene Parks

    • kwittet

      @Walkswithcoffee, DRUG USE IS A CHOICE! Call it for what it is. Why are liberals so quick to call issues like this someone or something elses fault.

      • Walkswithcoffee


        Any “purchase” is a choice… however, choice does not absolve the seller of responsibilities. (See car safety, tobacco, eating at a restaurant, medical law suits etc.)

        Further in the case of drugs, freedom-of-choice can be impacted by addiction and health issues.

        A seller should not summarily be absolved from selling potentially dangerous substances (again see tabaccoo industry civil cases).

        You are responsible for what you sell.

        Cheers, Eugene Parks

  • Big Winnie

    After reading James’ Blog and the comments, especially from Roblaw, why are we supporting this flawed bill?

  • John

    Is Ignatieff in favour of Liberal MP Keith Martin’s private member’s bill to decriminalize possession of marijuana? Does he support doing so himself once he’s Prime Minister if Martin’s bill doesn’t pass? If so that certainly does distinguish him from the Conservatives on this issue, but I’m not sure if he’s taken a clear stand on this yet.

  • militant dipper

    That’s true. nothing wrong with it at all. In fact I hope you are successful. My point is just that it shouldn’t be necessary. You shouldn’t have too lobby the leader of the Liberal party to act like a Liberal!

    • @militant dipper, you shouldn’t have to “lobby” him at all. There should be mechanisms through which party members (particularly high-profile members like Scott) can express their views to the leader without the spectacle of public lobbying.

      This makes it look like the Liberal caucus and the Liberal leader couldn’t care less about Liberal party members.

      (And considering that the former installed the latter, that’s probably not a good thing.)

  • militant dipper

    Every Liberal will eventually have their “I just realised, Ignatieff isn’t a Liberal” moment. It seems you have just had yours. Doesn’t it suck when you have to start a grass roots facebook campaign against your own leader? Wait till this man is Prime Minister. He is gonna make Harper look like a hippy.

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