Tuesday, September 27, 2011

'Stop wasting money on cages and start spending it on hospital beds and textbooks'

I gave the following speech today (Sept. 27th) in the House of Commons.

Mr. Speaker,

I stand today in opposition to Bill C-10 — the Omnibus Crime Bill.

I do not stand in opposition to every part of the bill.

Indeed, some parts of Bill C-10 are worthwhile.

As a father, Mr. Speaker, I have no objection with protecting children against pedophiles and sexual predators.

Of course not.

Even though the Conservatives may have you believe otherwise.

But then that’s the rub with Bill C-10, which throws so many pieces of legislation (9 bills), aboard the one bus.

The one omnibus bill.

I may agree with coming down hard on pedophiles, but I don’t agree with filling prisons with people who probably shouldn’t be there — like the student who gets caught with some marijuana plants.

What will throwing that student in jail do for him or her, or for society in general?

Besides costing us a fortune in new human cages.

My answer, Mr. Speaker, is nothing — it will do absolutely nothing.

Bill C-10 is also known as the Safe Streets and Communities Act – which, to quote The Telegram, the daily newspaper in my riding of St. John’s South-Mount Pearl, sounds like a new and improved detergent.

Except Bill C-10 will not make our streets any cleaner — it won’t wash away the crime.

In fact, chances are if you put a dirty sock through the omnibus cycle the sock will still come out just as dirty on the other end.

The Conservative detergent — so much of Bill C-10 — will soak up so much cash, to keep what will eventually be our U.S.-style prisons going, that there won’t be any money left over for infrastructure such as streets.

Forget keeping them clean.

The Conservative government has yet to put a price tag on Bill C-10, Mr. Speaker, but it’s fair to say it will cost untold billions of dollars as our prisons bulge at the seems.

According to a joint statement by the John Howard Society and the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, the increased costs associated with just one of the bills in Bill C-10 would be more than $5 billion.

That’s more than double current expenditures for the corrections system alone.

Furthermore, the provinces and territories would have to contribute the largest portion of the increase.

I’m sure they’ll be delighted to step forward, Mr. Speaker.

I don’t know about other provinces, but Newfoundland and Labrador’s prison system could not handle many more prisoners.

Her Majesty’s Penitentiary in St. John’s dates back to Victorian times — the original stone building first opened in 1859.

The Pen is an aging fortress that has been called an appalling throwback to 19th century justice.

Which sounds like Bill C-10.

How do people in my riding feel about Bill C-10?

I’ll tell you, Mr. Speaker.

I had one particular gentleman write to say he’s “disgusted.”

Here’s a quote from that letter:

“This is taking us in the wrong direction both socially and fiscally. I do not want to live in a country with a justice system based on a model developed in the dark ages. We do not need more prisons, we do not need to be taking discretion away from Justices of the Peace, and we do not need blanket mandatory sentencing guidelines that will do more harm than good.

Most of all, Mr. Cleary, I'm concerned about "The Penalties for Organized Drug Crime Act.” Yes, I'm concerned about the ongoing substance abuse problems we have in this province and my concerns about the pending legislation don’t mean I support a legal free-for-all when it comes to drugs, but increased mandatory sentences for growing a half-dozen plants is INSANE.

Who is helped by having a student, a future doctor or engineer, thrown in jail for a year and a half because they decided to make some hash for their own personal use?

In what universe does that make sense? Stop wasting money on cages and start spending it on hospital beds and textbooks."

Now that’s a line that sticks, Mr. Speaker: “Stop wasting money on cages and start spending it on hospital beds and textbooks.”

Great quote.

According to Statistics Canada, in 2008/2009 the average yearly cost of keeping an inmate behind bars was $110,000.

Where I come from that would pay for roughly two degrees — 8 years of university.

To quote the daily newspaper from my riding once again:

We may buck the American trend – where increasing the number of prisoners has not brought a reduction in crime rates – but the smart money says we’ll simply pay more to keep more people in prison and do little to change crime rates, which are among the lowest we’ve had in decades.

You can argue that tougher sentences will make Canada a harder place to do shifty business, but the jury’s out on whether it will end up making this country a better place to live.”

Mr. Speaker, I say Bill C-10 will not make Canada a better place to live.

It will change Canada.

It will change how we see ourselves as Newfoundlanders and Labradorians — and Canadians — and how we’re seen on the world stage.

Lock-'em-up-and-throw-away-the-key has not worked well in other jurisdictions — the United States, for example.

For every 100,000 people, the U.S. holds 724 people in prison.

Compare to that to Canada, where for every 100,000 people we have 117 people in prison.

The question that must be asked — the question that must be asked until there’s an answer — is if there are longer jail sentences for crimes such as growing pot plants, who pays for the dramatic increases in the cost of incarceration of both federal and provincial prisons?

Is that the next Conservation Action Plan, the Conservative job plan?

To build new cages across the country?

As for other sections of the omnibus bill:

The legislation that allows for victims of terrorism to sue perpetrators, including foreign countries, will do absolutely nothing to deter or prevent terrorism acts.

Cutting to the chase, suing a terrorist organization in a Canadian court will get you absolutely nowhere.

No, that’s not quite correct — it will get you in debt.

Returning to the section of Bill C-10 that would impose mandatory minimum sentences for the production, possession and trafficking in certain drugs like marijuana, experts have consistently said that mandatory minimum sentences do not work for reducing drug use, tackling organized crime, or for making our communities safer.

How about taking the money from building more cages and putting it into rehabilitation and retraining programs.

That makes more sense, that’s the Canadian way.

Bill C-10 is not the Canadian way.

Nothing in the Conservative crime bill deals with prevention, and 80 per cent of people in federal prison deal with at least one addiction.

Dr. Julio Montaner, immediate past-president of the International AIDS Society, has said the Conservative government’s crime agenda will jeopardize the health of some marginalized people.

He was quoted as saying the bill will make it more difficult for physicians to deliver public-health services to people who are poor, First Nations, mentally ill, at risk of HIV, or drug-addicted.

“This law is all about incarcerating the people that this government views as the ‘other Canadians’ for which they have no time for or no interest,” Montaner said.

Speaking for myself, my party believes in leaving nobody behind, leaving no Canadian behind, marginalizing nobody.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.


Craig Scott said...

Very well said Ryan. I am not an NDP supporter, in fact I tend to lead toward the conservative side. However I am a Ryan Cleary supporter and I am proud that you are representing our people in Ottawa.

Thank you

Craig Scott

Anonymous said...

Well said, Mr Ryan, and thank you.

Sadly, the underlying problem with this and many other bills being brought forward is that government is not in the business of bringing forward effective solutions, only popular ones, because of their own self-interest. If a poll showed that a majority of the population holds a mistaken belief, I have every confidence that the administration is far more likely to pass something supporting that ignorance than to educate the Canadian public on the facts instead.