Crime is one of the main issues in the May 12 B.C. election (along with the economy). Yet the two leading parties have very similar platforms on the issue.
The Liberal Party has a seven-point plan that includes more police officers, more prosecutors, more jails and secure courts, tougher laws, a crackdown on illegal guns, the outlawing of armoured vehicles and body armour, and a new gang hotline and rewards program.
The New Democratic Party platform calls for hiring new police officers, establishing a dedicated team of anti-gang Crown prosecutors, imposing tougher bail conditions, and banning the sale of body armour to known gang members.
Ed Fast, chair of the Justice and Human Rights Committee in the Canadian House of Commons and a committed Christian, noted that criminal justice is a shared responsibility of all three levels of government.
Provincial parties focus on issues such as police and prosecutors because that is the area of provincial responsibility.
The federal government has responsibility for the Criminal Code and giving the provinces, police and courts “the tools they need to mete out justice.”
Fast noted that many recent government initiatives have focused on “violent repeat offenders.” These represent only “a very small group,” Fast said, but they are the ones who “terrorize our communities.”
Two bills currently before the House of Commons are designed to have “an immediate impact on making our communities safer.”
C-14 would impose mandatory minimum sentences for certain crimes, and C-15 would impose mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes which involve children, violence or organized crime.
The federal New Democratic Party is opposing C-15, arguing that the threat of longer sentences does not deter criminals from committing crimes.
Fast countered that the purpose of longer sentences is not deterrence but the protection of society – since career criminals often commit 20 – 40 offenses before they are caught, a long sentence for one crime can prevent the criminal from committing many others.
Fast also stated that while longer sentences are important for serious criminals, they are not the solution for everything.
He pointed to the federal government’s anti-drug strategy, which includes education and drug treatment programs.
He also noted that while bill C-15 would impose longer sentences on serious criminals, it would allow lower-level criminals (such as those who sell drugs to finance their own drug addictions) to avoid prison if they agree to go into drug rehabilitation.
Fast talked about the cooperative work going on between federal and provincial governments, but he also referred to cooperative work with non-governmental agencies.
He singled out the contributions of two Christian agencies: Teen Challenge, which receives no government funding and which has been very successful in helping people overcome drug addictions, and M2/W2, a prison visitation ministry.
Both programs, Fast said, do something that government cannot do–bring in a faith component.
Both organizations also provide “a connecting point to the community,” which is a great help in “the rehabilitation process and the reintegration process.”
Wayne Northey, executive director of M2/W2, agreed, citing studies which show that rehabilitation is much more likely when there is “community intervention” in addition to the work of institutional staff.
Northey agreed that Christians can bring in a component that governments cannot, but he added that even a secular justice system can bring positive results if it uses a restorative justice model emphasizing ‘Christian’ concepts such as confession, restoration and absolution.