Friday, April 14, 2006

If it don't need fixing -- break it?

This is such a good column that I'm going to lift most of it because it's subscription only. Dan Gardner in The Ottawa Citizen nails what's been bugging me about what's going in Canada with the new conservative government.
It would be nice to think that federal ministers keep up to speed on the news. It would be particularly good to know that ministers keep themselves informed about events related to their ministries. That way, if there were -- oh, I don't know -- a horrific slaughter of outlaw bikers, the justice minister would know at least as much about it as dear Aunt Beatrice who always watches Peter Mansbridge before bed, bless her.

But I have to wonder about Vic Toews. Granted the new justice minister is busy. His government has big plans on the justice file. Re-modelling Canada's criminal justice system along the lines of the brutal, unjust, ineffective, socially corrosive and fantastically expensive criminal justice systems in the United States is a lot of work.

Still, he really should look at a newspaper now and then.

On Wednesday, Mr. Toews gave a speech at the University of Western Ontario in London outlining how his government will put a stop to the unacceptable fact that Canada is one of the safest countries on the planet.

It was the usual Conservative spiel. Tougher sentences. More cops. Stepping up the war on drugs. Pretty much all the wonderful ideas that helped give the U.S. a homicide rate almost three times higher than Canada's, a prison population bigger than China's, and an incarceration rate higher than Russia's.


We need a national organized crime strategy, he said, including laws modelled after American anti-gang legislation. Mr. Toews is particularly fond of the "RICO" law passed in 1970 by Richard Nixon to win the war on drugs and crime. That much I understand. Who wouldn't be impressed with the way Richard Nixon turned the U.S. into a peaceful, drug-free country? It's something else I don't get.

It starts with the affiliation of the bikers who bought, and were deposited on, the farm. They were Bandidos. Everyone who pays attention to the news knows that. The killings got so much coverage even Aunt Bea could describe the gang's patch. Yes, it's a little guy with a sombrero. Another thing Aunt Bea knows is that the Bandidos aren't from Canada. The sombrero kind of gives that away. So does the name, which isn't in either official language.

"Bandido" is Spanish. That's a rather strong hint that the Bandidos come from somewhere well south of the 49th parallel. Where might that be? I won't keep the reader in suspense because the very fact that you're reading this newspaper means you already know that the home of the Bandidos outlaw motorcycle gang is the great state of Texas. Yes, Texas. Or, as it says on envelopes mailed to Texas: "Texas, U.S.A."


Interestingly, another thing Texas has a lot of is prisoners. State and county lock-ups alone -- leaving out federal pens -- hold almost 170,000 people. That's slightly more than the total prison populations of Germany, France, Belgium, Holland, Austria, and Switzerland combined. There's a reason why nobody ever said the Texas criminal justice system is soft.

So, now, let's imagine you are the justice minister. You are about to give a speech not far from where one of the most horrible organized crime massacres in Canadian history has just been discovered. And let's say you know the accused and the corpses are linked to the Bandidos. And let's say you know that the Bandidos are an outlaw motorcycle gang from Texas. And let's say you know that while the Bandidos are close to extinct in this country, they are a thriving species in the U.S. Will you now tell your audience that the solution to organized crime in Canada is to adopt American laws which have worked wonders in the U.S.? No, you wouldn't. Why? Because you are not an idiot, that's why.

It so happens that I do not think that Vic Toews is an idiot, either. It thus follows logically that he must be unaware of these facts. But to be unaware of these facts, he must not follow the news. And that's not good.

Please, will somebody buy the minister a newspaper subscription?
Hope somebody gets him one so he can read that column. Smart guy that Gardner.


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