Posted by: Peaceful Social Worker | March 14, 2012

Omnibus Blues

Last night I had a Twitter discusion of sorts with my MP. He had tweeted that Bill C-10 had passed, and I re-tweeted it with a comment saying this was a sad day for Canada. Later, he asked me why. I tried to answer, but man…..in 140 character bites??? So, I decided to put my thoughts here to explain a bit more. I do appreciate him asking me to explain. I know it won’t change anything now. Please bear in mind, this is not an academic paper. Feel free to comment, nicely please. I welcome comments from Mr. Zimmer, MP of my riding.

My first experience with a bill that was labelled “omnibus” was in Ontario in 1996 or so. Mike Harris had come to power with the promises of a “Common Sense Revolution”. That sells well. People want common sense in their government. He promised he would not cut health care, or education…two sacred cows. Those were the first and biggest cuts he made.  I was working in hospitals at the time, and we were experiencing changes and cut backs, largely due to the reduction of transfer payments from the Federal government. The Harris government introduced an omnibus bill that introduced sweeping changes to the health care sector, and possibly education. When I tried to look it up to refresh my memory, I found mostly information about the Crime Bill when I used “Omnibus” as a search term. (one  site I found was this: http://harpercrusade.blogspot.com/2010/07/mik-harris-and-ontario-under-corporate.html) My memory of the bill was that it would put the hospitals/health services and possibly education under one bill, giving the government power to do what it wanted with these servcies. My memory is that if this had passed, employees would be turned into pawns at the mercy of the government in their quest to privatize and cut services. Harris and his crew were my first real experience with neoliberal policies. It was not a good first impression. I left Ontario, partly because of the climate Harris and his government created.

So, you can imagine how I responded to the word “omnibus” in the Harper government’s crime bill. I learned it was called “Safe Streets and Communities Act”. Well, who wouldn’t want that? I know I do. But does that mean our streets and communities are unsafe now? From all that I have read, most Canadians feel safe. Crime rates are going down. So, why do we need this bill now?

This bill was a bundle of nine bills, many of which were not passed in the past sittings of government. It seems that the Harper government is bound and bent to impose its ideology on us, and change us into an entirely different country. I hope I am wrong on that.

Parts of the bill are fine. Yes, we probably do need tougher sentences and more power to keep certain criminals in jail/prison. Paul Bernardo, and Karla Homolka come to mind. Yes, victims do need to have at least the same rights, and arguably more rights, than their perpetrators. That being said, we cannot paint all “criminals” with the same brush.

I have been a social worker for over twenty years. I have worked primarily in addictions and mental health. I have seen “graduates” of Kingston Penitentiary. I have met some people who have done some very bad things. I currently run mandated groups for people who have been charged with impaired driving. If I have learned nothing else over the years, I have learned that this world is not black and white, good guys and bad guys. Oh that I wish it were so simple. I’d like to comment on a few things that bother me about this bill. I am sure with research and more time, I could write a long paper on this topic. This is not the spot for that, so I will keep it short, and I hope sweet. 🙂

  1. Mandatory sentences – I do not believe that mandatory sentences are appropriate in most cases, or that they serve the intended puposes. There needs to be some flexibility in sentencing. I remember meeting a man who had killed a woman in a hit and run, drunk driving incident. He only served a year in custody. Because he was an “average Joe”, that year was worth ten to him. He had genuine remorse, and made changes to his life so he would not reoffend.  He stopped drinking, and had to return to his community and regain his dignity. Believe me that was hard. On the other hand, I have met some people who have served ten years, and that was worth nothing to them. They have no remorse for what they have done. Those are the people who need to be incarcerated longer, not some average Joe who made a dumb (extremely dumb, and extremely tragic) choice. Mr. Joe will not likely be a danger to us when he is released. Keeping him incarcerated longer is not going to keep our streets safer. It is going to clog up the jails.
  2. Serving a full sentence and then being released is not a good idea. When people are released on parole, they can be monitored, and eased back into society. Look at Karla Homolka. Because of public pressure, she was released at the end of her sentence, and could not be monitored. Hopefully, she is living a normal life, and is not a danger to others.
  3. Costs – we have never been told how much this new act will cost, and the provinces will have to bear the majority of the cost of this bill. If a government is going to enact legislation, they need to fund it.
  4. Omnibus – this is probably my biggest complaint. When there is an omnibus bill, bad things will be slid in with the good. I wonder what will emerge from this. For a neoliberal government that alledgedly believes in less government, this is a poor way to operate. Not to mention that the bill was pushed through so fast without proper debate. The government did not seem to respond to any groups that would know more about this issue than they did. They operated on ideology, not expertise…..at least that is how it looks.

I did not vote Conservative. I know you are surprised by that. My biggest fear was a Harper majority. What I hoped for was a strong minority with Jack Layton as a strong opposition. Mr Harper and Mr Layton had complementary personalities, and values. Had Mr Harper been willing to listen to Mr. Layton, and work together, we could have had great things happen. Sadly, we will never know what would have happened. Now we have a majority with a governing party that seems to push its will like a bully. We have no strong voices from the opposition. It is never good to have one party with absolute rule. No matter what their values.

I hope my fears for this country are not realized. I hope some “common sense” will return. I hope some cooperation will return.

I’m not holding my breath.

Further information:

http://www.policyalternatives.ca/publications/commentary/bill-c-10-truth-about-consequences

http://www.casw-acts.ca/en/casw-statement-passing-c-10

Society prepares the crime, the criminal commits it. ~Henry Thomas Buckle

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Responses

  1. This sort of ‘policy’ is so consistent with Con philosophy, and yet they are contradicting the principles that they supposedly live by..government interference where none is wanted, or warranted..also see that the Feds, of the same philosophical stripe as the BS Libs, are interfering in private sector bargaining vis a vis the Air Canada issue..First they support a monopoly, then de-regulation, and when neither of these concepts proves valid they simply turn into fascists and impose their will on workers in both public and private sectors..
    It’s long past time for a General Strike, and i’m referring to Canada, not just BC…our politicians make the US Right look like raving anarchists…

    • I agree. I also somehow hit “publish” too soon, so there is more to come….. 🙂

  2. I appreicate your response. Let me respond to your concerns.

    1.Mandatory minimums-this is designed to take discretion out of the process. We have seen many varied judgements that need better consistnecy and that appropriately prosecutes the criminal.

    2.Serving full sentences- I can attest most Canadians like myself expect that a specified sentence is served and not underserved. You mention that you do not want full terms so that a process if integration occur…I would argue that the sentence should be fully served period. 5 years is 5 years….public expect this and so do I.

    3. Costs-costing I view in terms of the vicitms in terms of billions of dollars and feelings of living in an unsafe community. Often this cost is overlooked as if it was insignificant….it isn’t…it is THE cost of crime.
    That said certainly justice will cost finacially. We are aware of this and will be working with provinces to ensure the roll out will be successful.

    4. Omnibus-you haven’t sated any facts here excpet your not a cosevative and that you don’t like conservative governemnts. Fair enough but not much I can say if your presuming the result of the discussion before it occurs.

    Further common sense seems lacking in opposition where the rights of criminals matter more than that of victims. I say this from experience where after hours of debate criminals are mentioned but rarely victims. Except one time I heard that criminals were really victims! …yes some criminals have had a hard life but does that make ok for them to walk free to harm my family or others.
    I trust you wouldn’t prejudge legislation prior to reading it personally. There may be many things you agree with.
    It would seem to be common sense.

    • Thank you for your response.

      1. I can appreciate the need for more consistency. There does also need to be some room for discretion. Not all criminals are the same. I gave two examples of that. Certainly, there is a place for some mandatory consequences. The BC drinking drivers law is an example. Requiring the Interlock device in the vehicle for example is one way to hold the person accountable, while also giving them a chance to show they can be responsible.

      2. Fair enough. I don’t disagree with that. What needs to happen though is a way to integrate people back into society. One advantage of an early release, say after 4/5 of the sentence, not 1/3, is the system can still watch over the person. Believe me, I have met people who have been incarcerated that should not just go free once they have served their sentence….for a variety of reasons. I will look at the bill again. Is there provision for the person to be accountable to someone, like a parole officer when they have been released under the new bill? (I guess it is an act now)

      3. I hope you will be helping the provinces. I am aware this will be a gradual roll out. I am more than aware that cost is more than financial. In fact, I bitch about that often. 🙂 I think I made a comment in a previous post with regards to health care.

      4. Actually, I did say something about omnibus. If this bill had been broken down into smaller bills, and passed that way, it would have been better. There are certainly good parts to the bill.

      While I am not a Conservative, I do appreciate aspects of traditional conservative policy. Frankly, I do not belong to any political party because none match my beliefs. That is why I said that having a strong minority with Harper and Layton would have been good. They both have strengths and could have complimented each other. If there had been a strong Liberal leader, I’d say the same about that mix. If we pretend that Bob Rae were the permanent Liberal leader (for sake of argument), and if the Liberals were second place, then I would say the same thing – Harper and Rae would be a decent mix. I guess what I’d like to see is more collaboration. I don’t see much these days.

  3. Interesting commentary on the bill: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/irwin-cotler/billc-10_b_1335564.html?ref=tw

  4. Thank you for this insightful discussion and raising awareness for this important issue! 😀 I tend to keep my head buried away from politics. Very impressive that you engaged a political representative :D. Thank you for sharing. 😀

    • Thanks Pink. I believe it is important to be aware of the politcal world…..even if it makes me crazy sometimes! :-\

      • Yes, totally! Sadly, a lot of the ways certain bills are passed more quickly than others was something I did learn in my Contemporary Canadian History Class at the University of Toronto, as taught by my registrar. Some bills, they drag their heels on while others, they quickly pass through. It’s scary, but necessary to know what affects us and impacts it makes in our lives. Thank you for sharing 😀


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