Platform Primer: Law and Order
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Platform Primer: Law and Order

In the run-up to the federal election on May 2, we’ll be comparing the major parties’ platforms on issues that matter to urban voters.

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Each party’s key messages, according their respective colours. Image by Michael Chrisman/Torontoist.


Crime is a perennial hot-button issue, even when there’s not really that much of it around. Our national parties have a range of views on how serious our crime problem is, and how we should be dealing with it.

Conservatives

Stephen Harper wants you to know that you’re not safe. Nine pages of the Conservative platform document are devoted to discussion of crime and punishment (versus three pages dedicated to the environment, for instance). One of five headline priorities in the Tory platform is the commitment to “make our streets safe, through new laws to protect children and the elderly ( the rest of us are on our own). Keep in mind that this is in a country where the crime rate dropped 17 per cent between 1999 and 2010. Nevertheless, let’s wade right into the reasons why you’ll be safer under the Tories.
A fully empowered Conservative government would reinstate key provisions of the post-9/11 anti-terrorism law that expired in 2006, presumably because the terrorism situation has spiraled out of control since then In addition, the Tories will roll out a National Counter-Terrorism Strategy to “outlin[e] relevant laws and procedures and [highlight] the means to protect our country from terrorism”—which sounds like somebody pointing out stuff on a whiteboard, but probably ends up with guys in balaclavas and body armour crashing through picture windows. And once the terrorists have been busted, we’ve got to figure out what to do with them. Because they’ll likely be foreigners, the Harper Tories will work to expedite the deportation process so the bad guys can be returned to whatever pestilent hellhole they crawled out of.
Crimes domestic and non-terroristic will be treated no less harshly, and even the condensed version of the Tory anti-crime plan is too exhaustive to describe here in detail. However, some key elements include increased resources to fight gangs, working with border services to combat human smuggling, banning sentence “discounts” for sexual predators, ending contraband tobacco trafficking, and increasing the rights of citizens to defend their lives and property through the so-called a Lucky Moose Bill, named after the store of Toronto “vigilante grocer” David Chen. The cornerstone of the anti-crime platform is the reintroduction of what the Tories call their law and order legislation, which bundles a variety of new laws to crack down on crooks and give law enforcement new tools and powers.
To keep all the bad guys locked up longer, the Tories will add 2,700 (suitably lumpy and uncomfortable) prison beds around the country for approximately $2.1 billion, part of an overall prison strategy that would see some $9 billion spent on ensuring we have sufficient space to warehouse all those thugs and scofflaws.
Courting the rural and survivalist votes, the Tories are also anxious to ditch the long-gun registry, even though the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police wants to keep it.
Crime is inconvenient at best and scary at worst, and we’d all be happy to have less of it. However, the question to be asked is whether the resources the Tories want to throw at this diminishing problem would really pay off.

Liberals

Reading the Tory and Liberal platforms for law and order side by side, you’d be hard-pressed to know they were talking about the same country: the words “crime” or “criminal” appear 68 times in the Conservative document, and only twice in the Liberal platform. The Grits make no mention of expanding law enforcement powers or increasing criminal penalties, but focus on addressing social issues as potential root causes of crime.
The Liberals are as interested in managing the cops as the crooks, particularly where those two groups intersect. Addressing the RCMP scandals iof recent years, they promise to “establish a civilian oversight board, restore transparency, and address management and leadership issues in the RCMP.” They also propose to establish a Community Heroes Fund to pay a benefit of $300,000 to the families of police and firefighters who die in the line of duty.
On the crime side of the equation the Libs will set up a task force to look at why aboriginal women constitute 10 per cent of cases of murdered and missing women in Canada, even though they’re only 3 per cent of the population.
The Liberals are dismissive of the Tories’ infatuation with what they call “U.S. style mega-prisons,” arguing that it’s in an expensive waste of money based on a crime reduction strategy that has failed south of the border. And instead of eliminating the contentious long-gun registry, the Grits would look to improve it by reducing fees and making access easier.
Overall, the Liberals don’t see crime as a major issue for Canadians, and don’t propose any major initiatives in that direction.

NDP

The NDP are uncharacteristically centrist on law and order issues: not as Fox News agitated as the Tories, but also not so sanguine as the Liberals. Their section on the topic is gratifyingly succinct and focuses on a few key areas.
The New Democrats propose to hire 2,500 more police across the country. (However, to assuage any fears that these might be scary, angry, baton-wielding Tory police, the platform assures us that it’s part of a “balanced, effective approach based on prevention, policing, and prosecution.”) They’d also throw an additional $35 million into crime prevention programs.
The NDP will also enact new legislation to make gang recruiting illegal, and make specific laws against carjacking and home invasion.They’d echo the Tories in implementing the Lucky Moose Bill, to allow expanded powers of citizen’s arrest. The NDP also propose a “Hero’s Benefit” similar to—actually identical to—the Liberal’s Community Heroes Fund. On the kinder and gentler side, the Laytonistas promise to ensure that mentally ill prisoners receive treatment while incarcerated.
On the surface, the NDP offer a fairly balanced platform that doesn’t make madly expensive promises.

Green Party

The Green platform writers are uncommonly garrulous, and actually devote almost as much platform space to crime as the Tories. That may sound counter-intuitive, but they use their pages to describe a more nuanced approach than the Conservatives’ binary crime/punishment paradigm. They open the discussion with the assurance that “Greens understand that true justice and real security cannot stand alone, out of our social and cultural context. We are committed to addressing underlying causes of crime such as poverty, racism, and inequality …”
With the touchy-feely disclaimer out of the way, it’s apparent that the Greens are also pragmatists. They’re strongly in favour of stiffening laws against white collar crime, and also ensuring that criminals make financial restitution. Besides that, they’d invest in tools to give law enforcement a greater ability to investigate and prosecute complex economic crime cases.
The Greens take a rehabilitative view towards perpetrators of non-violent crime (they note almost as an aside that they would legalize marijuana), but observe sternly that “Violent offenders must face more serious consequences, in setting bail, in sentencing and in parole terms.” They promise to “review (the) Young Offenders Act to ensure it is not an inducement to youth crime, while retaining its core principle, that youth should not be treated as hardened criminals.” (Unfortunately the YOA was repealed and replaced by the Youth Criminal Justice Act back in 2003, but we get what they mean. Still, detail matters in framing policy.)
Maintaining the fair-but-tough approach, they promise to increase border security and fund organizations to fight potential terrorism, but also give a lot of play to respecting the human rights of those arrested or detained.
Like the Grits, they propose to keep and streamline the gun registry, and advocate for strong gun laws, with harsher penalties for both those who smuggle and those who use them in crimes.
Uniquely, the Greens would take animal cruelty as a crime out of the property section of the Criminal Code, and increase penalties for it. The platform specifically takes aim at the way cows and chickens are treated before we eat them, a policy unlikely to earn them the rural vote.

The Upshot

The Tories are like an annoying spam pop-up that screams “YOU ARE AT RISK!!!” to get you to buy some cheap anti-virus software: sure, there’s always some danger but do we really want to pay this much to possibly avoid it? And what if the cure is worse than the problem? The Liberals barely reference crime as a campaign issue, and don’t seem disposed to spend a lot of time or money on it. Taking up the space in the middle, the NDP have furrowed their collective brow but aren’t over-the-top hysterical, which may be the right touch for an electorate that wants security but is more worried about the economy. The Greens live in a similar space to the NDP, ready to crack down on violent and white collar hoodlums, but also looking to deal with root causes of crime before the ETF has to be called in. Their views on pot legalization and cruelty to farm animals may, however, be a deal-breaker for small-c conservatives.

For more on the federal election, check out our politics hub, with a complete guide to every riding in Toronto. For all the details on their policy plans, also check out the platforms of the Conservative Party, the Green Party, the Liberal Party and the New Democratic Party.

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