Monday, May 7, 2007

Tory justice: lock up the poor

If the Tories get elected to government on May 22, we're going to need to find ourselves some Robin Hoods real soon.

In case you missed it: on Sunday, Sheriff Hugh unveiled plans to lock up Manitoba's poor.

I am not making this up. Here's the 411 on the Tory plan:

Q. What's the gist of this proposed Tory plan?

A. Under a Tory government, anyone with a previous conviction for certain types of charges will be denied legal aid.

Q. Will this really mean that the poor will be disproportionately and unfairly locked up?

A. The Canadian Bar Association's position on legal aid is that, "without legal aid, the most disadvantaged people in our society would be effectively barred from protecting their rights and interests through the legal system. Our sense of justice and democracy demands that this barrier be removed." (thanks to Curtis Brown for this source - check out his comments on the issue).

Q. So what's the rationale for the Tories' plan, anyway?

A. Apparently, they believe it will generate cost savings: “Manitobans should not be held financially responsible for the crimes of gang members and drug dealers,” said McFadyen. “After just one conviction, lawyers will be on their dime.”

Q. How much does it cost to incarcerate a person?

A. According to StatsCan's Juristat (quoted by it costs $259.05 per prisoner per day to incarcerate a federal prisoner and $141.78 per prisoner per day to incarcerate a provincial prisoner. That comes to about $95,000 per year for a federal prisoner and $52,000 for a provincial prisoner -- far more than the average per-case cost for Legal Aid, which ranges from $223 to $12,564 depending on the type of charge, according to Legal Aid Manitoba).
Under the Tory plan, expect incarceration rates to rise -- incarcerate just a few people who'd otherwise have been acquitted in a fair trial and so much for your cost savings!

Q. Will the Tory legal aid policy take more criminals off the streets?

A. Consider first what the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms has to say.
Section 10 (b) states: "Everyone has the right on arrest or detention to retain and instruct counsel without delay and to be informed of that right."
Sec. 11 (d) states: "Any person charged with an offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law in a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal."

It's not unreasonable to conclude that the Tory policy increases the possiblity of an accused person who DOES represent a threat to society walking free if they can prove or if the judge decides that their right to a fair trial was violated due to inadequate legal representation. Expect the opposite to happen a lot more, too: more David Milgaards, Donald Marshall Jrs., and Guy Paul Morins.

Q. Who in Manitoba is most likely to get locked up under the Tories's plan?

A. Aboriginal Manitobans, who have average lower incomes than the provincial average, will be disproportionately affected. Aboriginal people in Manitoba make up 14% of the general population (according to the 2001 census), yet are 70% of the total prisoner population (in 2004-5, according to Juristat; quoted by According to Aboriginal People in Manitoba 2000, the share of women prisoners who are aboriginal is even higher than the male share.

For the Tories to launch into a tough-on-crime, let's-get-rid-of-legal-aid tirade without speaking to these issues smacks of a rather ugly sort of intolerance in their ranks. I'd say it's suprising, but then the 1988 report of the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry did lie gathering dust through three terms of Tory government.

Q. So what should we do if the Tories somehow manage to get elected on May 22?

A. Hope that Robin Hood, Little John and Friar Tuck make their way here from Sherwood Forest, and fast. The poor are going to need their help.

No comments: