Canada should not always follow the lead of the United States, but when it comes to mandatory minimum sentences for drug offences, the federal government should heed the lessons learned south of the border.
Last week, Eric Holder, the U.S. attorney general declared these decades-long policies a failure.
“These sentences cost taxpayers far too much money, don’t reduce recidivism, haven’t won the drug war and are fundamentally unjust and destructive to communities,” he said.
Funny, if I recall correctly (I do), it seems that is the pretty much opposite of what Stephen Harper’s Conservatives claimed as justification for the new legislation.
In fact, it’s pretty much entrenched in the title of the law: The Safe Streets and Communities Act.
The United States’ back-peddling is not a knee-jerk, “oops, maybe we should rethink this” reaction. It is based on nearly half a century of evidence that it does not work. It has made Americans the most incarcerated population on the planet—more so than the Soviet Union under Stalin according to the American legal expert Bill Stuntz (although to be fair that might not be the case had Stalin imprisoned all the citizens he killed). Nevertheless, so much for the “land of the free.”
And it’s not a partisan issue. Of 28 states that have embarked on serious prison reform initiatives, 19 are led by Republican governors. Seriously, if even Republicans are starting to realize “tough on crime” is a failed experiment, how can Canadians continue to support the same policies here.
This is not to say all mandatory minimums are created equal. I would be hard-pressed to quibble with some of the new provisions for child-related sex offences.
And the mandatory minimum amnesty for minor drug offences is not across the board. Drug crimes involving violence, weapons or ties to significant crime organizations.
As I said before, Canada should make its own decisions. In this case, it should be the same one the Americans have come to.
Still no justice for Khadr
I am not saying Omar should not have spent time in prison. I am not even saying he should not still be in prison, but I am ashamed of the way Canada has handled his case.
Let’s start with the basics. Kadhr was 15 years old when he was arrested in a war zone. Despite being designated a child soldier by the United Nations, and the protestations of human rights organizations and the Canadian Bar Association, he was held, without due process, in the notorious U.S. military detention camp at Gunatanamo Bay, Cuba for eight years, longer than any other western citizen.
During that time Canada did nothing to try to repatriate him. In fact, when the U.S. offered, we refused.
In 2010, he agreed to a plea bargain of eight years in prison (in addition to time served) with an option of repatriation after one year. We finally got him back in 2011.
It’s unconscionable that Canadian citizens should be treated this way, especially since our own intelligence had initially determined he had little knowledge of his father’s alleged terrorist activities.
Even if we were to have brought him back, tried him and sent him to jail for the rest of his life without parole, he is entitled to that due process.
Even if we had made our best efforts to bring him back and the Americans had refused, it’s a far cry better than not advocating for our citizens at all.
Last week, a Canadian judge reserved his decision on whether the now 27-year-old should be transferred to a provincial prison. Whether he should or shouldn’t, I’m sure he’s used to waiting.