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Tuesday, July 27, 2010 

Harper's Conservatives Don't Let Evidence Guide Decision Making

"Facts are meaningless. You could use facts to prove anything that's even remotely true!"
-Homer J. Simpson

Progressive Bloggers

Federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson spilled the beans in a recent interview on CBC Radio and let the nation know that our Conservative government does not consider relevant facts or statistics when they make decisions - everything is based on their misguided, idiotic, Reform Party ideology.

The Editorial Board of the Saskatoon Star Phoenix blasts the Federal Harper government right between the eyes for their ongoing idiocy:

"According to federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, the Conservative government doesn't govern based on the latest statistics.

Defending the Stephen Harper government's "get tough on crime" agenda Monday on the CBC Radio program, The Current, Mr. Nicholson said critics keep insisting: "You have to use the statistics and the measuring sticks we want. I say you can't do that."

His statement is much more illuminating than the ongoing controversy over the Tories' decision to make voluntary Canadians' responding to the long-form census. The data obtained from the previously mandatory responses had been used to glean a wide range of statistically valid information about Canadians.

***His comments are further evidence on the lengths to which the Conservative government will go to avoid or ignore any information that runs contrary to its ideological base position.***

The cost and harm that result from the federal government's tough-on-crime strategy will be tough on all of Canada, but particularly so for Saskatchewan, given this province's specific demographics.

It's a good sign that provincial Justice Minister Don Morgan is determined to act to lower crime rates in Saskatchewan, and recognizes part of the challenge will be to work with the "younger, socially disadvantaged population" to accomplish the goal. However, Mr. Nicholson seems just as determined to get in the way of doing that.

Not only will diversion and alternative sentencing become more difficult with the federal push to toughen young offenders' legislation and impose mandatory minimum sentences, but the harsh tone of the debate will make it even harder to stand up for those persons caught on the wrong side of the law.

Such has been the most telling experience of the United States. Over the past four decades, the country has become increasingly tough on crime and locked up more of its citizens for longer periods and for more minor offences than any other democratic nation.

However, according to a recent study published in the conservative British magazine The Economist, the "tough on crime" rhetoric has made it nearly impossible for any American politician to promote crime reduction strategies that actually work.

The study points to the contrast between the similar countries of Belgium and The Netherlands. Belgium's get-tough approach to crime has increased its prison population while The Netherlands has used community service, treatment and support on its way to reducing both prisoner numbers and crime. So successful has it been that the Netherlands now leases prison space to Belgium.

Mr. Nicholson told the CBC that what the U.S. does has little to do with Canada. The Conservative government's made-in-Canada solution has demonstrably been supported in two consecutive elections, he suggested, with Canadians sending more Tories to Ottawa than MPs of any other party.

A lot of evidence suggests that the American experiment with harsh sentencing will be repeated above the 49th parallel -- particularly when it comes to the numbers of disadvantaged minorities languishing behind bars.

And this will be Mr. Morgan's chief challenge. Although Natives make up less than a quarter of Saskatchewan's population, they constitute nearly 81 per cent of the prison population here.

The American experience teaches us that the harsher the sentencing, the more adversely it impacts upon minority groups such as Blacks and Hispanics, and the more difficult it is to enact strategies to help these minorities turn things around.

Kevin Page, Canada's Parliamentary Budget Officer, estimates that a single Tory law -- the "truth in sentencing" provision meant to stop judges from giving extra credit for time served in remand -- will cost the federal treasury at least $5 billion over the next five years.

Saskatchewan and Canada already lock up more people longer than do most jurisdictions. The sentencing changes mean Canada will be locking up a larger number of people who pose a lesser problem -- people would otherwise have the greatest chance for rehabilitation. As the U.S. example shows, this only serves to created more and harder criminals over the long term.

Mr. Nicholson points out his party is the only one standing up for victims, but it's a debatable claim.

A dispassionate review of data from the U.S., The Netherlands and Belgium, and a discussion with experts rather than constituents riled up by tough-on-crime rhetoric show that the Conservatives would seem to be the only party that standing up for creating more victims.

But, as Mr. Nicholson says, and the decision to water down the validity of census data affirms, this government doesn't need evidence in order to act."

Saskatoon Star Phoenix

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