Welcome to my Crime and Justice blog! I am a 19 year old criminal justice student at the University of Winnipeg. I advocate for prisoners' rights, human rights, equality and criminal justice/prison system reforms.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The power of shazam -- old age prisoners deserve to receive pensions

All it takes is a wave of the magic wand. Just ask Stephen Harper or any of his minions. Simply create the illusion, and, presto, the spell is cast.
The latest illusion, unveiled this week by Human Resources Minister Diane Finley -- another of the sorcerer's well-rehearsed apprentices -- involves the good guys once again riding in to town to vanquish the bad guys.
From the government that knows how to Get Tough on Crime comes a new piece of legislation: preventing federal prisoners from receiving old-age pensions. What this does, clearly, is cut funding from 70-year-old serial killer Clifford Olson, a person we can all agree is a bona fide scumbag -- which is not the point, of course. Or shouldn't be.
But in the world of Harperian optics, scumbagginess is not just reason enough to bring in such pointless legislation, it's also the sound of opportunity knocking.

Take a few good swings at a creep everybody loathes, one who will likely end his days in prison, and you're the guy who gets to wear the white hat. Never mind that the move accomplishes virtually nothing (except perhaps to reduce some older convicts' hopes for life after prison), and saves the government a mere drop in the bucket -- $2 million annually across all federal prisons. This, from the producers of the billion-dollar G20 Roadshow.
Nonetheless, it was "outrageous" and "offensive" that Olson had been receiving federal money for five years, said Finley. The prime minister was "upset" when he heard about it. Apparently, he was equally upset in April at the "deeply troubling and gravely disturbing" news of the pardon received by high-profile hockey coach and convicted sex offender Graham James -- though the National Parole Board had granted it three years earlier. (Which suggests, perhaps, the PM should start hiring fewer historians and more people aware of current events.)

In April, it was the turn of Public Safety Minister Vic Toews to hear that reforms would be necessary to ensure that the parole board "always and unequivocally puts the public's safety first."
Clearly, according to Harperian optics, this is the first government in the nation's history to care about the safety of Canadians (provided you ignore that little detail about the gun registry, deep-sixed despite police forces' support for it). As outlined in its March throne speech, the government, having previously toughened criminal sentences, is now going to: protect kids from cyberabuse, respond "strongly" to violent young offenders, "combat the organized criminal drug trade," speed up the administration of justice and "crack down on white-collar crime."
(Finally! And on the seventh day, maybe they can bake us all a cherry pie.)
But Ottawa's accomplished wizards of illusion have been busy on so much more than merely the get-tough-on-crime file. At Harper's bidding, they have ensured that the fantasy message is controlled exclusively by the man himself.
That means strict PMO prohibitions against ministers speaking without a PMO script -- or even publicly being themselves. It means preventing ministerial aides from appearing before Commons committees. It means withholding documents and censoring information. It means ensuring that questioning journalists from media across the country are routinely informed that a relevant minister is not "available" -- when there's even a response at all -- and public appearances are carefully stage managed. It means, basically, conducting the business of government under a virtual cloak of darkness. (It also makes Harper's observations on press freedom last fall -- that journalists must be "free to... shine light into dark corners, and to assist the process of holding governments accountable" -- pretty rich.)
Even at the most superficial political levels -- the classic, if shameless, exploitation of family imagery; the artful Piano Man appearance at the National Arts Centre (with choreographed video release for subsequent airplay); the hair stylist in the prime-ministerial entourage, according to columnist Don Martin, and the mascara in the make-up box (though I'd bet my money on eyeliner) -- even here, the wizardry has scaled new heights.
No one does optics like Harper's A-team, who massage reality into the hypnotic drug of illusion, slip it into the water supply with practiced sleight of hand, and leave voters, like David Copperfield audiences, none the wiser.
In The Glass Menagerie, Tennessee Williams' timeless examination of reality and its opposite, the play's narrator describes the function of the stage magician as one who "gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth."
He could be describing Canada's 22nd prime minister. Ignore nasty questions about accountability, and that makes them disappear. Dress up in Nice Guy costumes, and that transforms you into a Nice Guy. Kick the baddies where it hurts, and that solves the crime problem.
Abracadabra. Out of their top hat, Harper and company pull illusion with the appearance of truth -- and hold on to an unflagging lead in the polls. The world according to Stephen Harper is a magic place indeed.

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