Stephen Harper has in the past expressed his disdain of Canada's liberal democracy, (most famously to a gathering of American business nabobs) preferring the U.S. economic philosophy, sometimes called laissez faire.
But it is not in economics alone Harper would have Canada emulate the United States.Last week, the minority prime minister, buoyed perhaps by the current disarray of the opposition Liberals, announced legislation he would introduce in the Fall session of parliament to "toughen" Canada's too-long lax drugs prohibition laws and enforcement. Gambling he can ram this policy through, what it would mean is Canada following the disastrous example of America's bloated penal system.
Coyly, Harper left some of the details of his plan out of the press releases. He fails too to mention the more than two million people currently incarcerated in U.S. prisons and jails. Many hundreds of thousand more are living either under house arrest, monitored electronically, or are parolees. An overwhelming number, the majority in fact, suffer this fate because of the decades-old 'War on Drugs,' widely recognized as a blatant and racist attack against the country's mainly "coloured" underclass.
But, this policy is not an unmitigated disaster. As chillingly pointed out in Naomi Klein's new book, Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, there are ways and means to profit catastrophes of both the natural and manufactured kind. The "prison-industrial complex" is going great guns in the U.S. and U.K., the monies being made, and circumstances of their making dwarfing the greed and horrors of injustice so wretchedly chronicled by Charles Dickens and his pre-end of history liberal emulators. Which brings us back to the business at hand.
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Harper announced more than 64 million dollars to be doled out, roughly two-thirds going for "prevention" and "treatment" programs, with the remaining third being devoted to "enforcement." Under the deal, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) would also see an expansion of "proceeds of crime" laws, (another instance of legislation imported from south of the border) that allows the seizure of suspect assets for sale, the monies then divvied up between the government and the RCMP.
Harper has set his sights low, aiming at methamphetamines and cocaine "producers and traffickers." These are two drugs often cited in the media as related to gang activities and violent crime; but Harper also seeks broader RCMP powers, the details remaining unreleased, targeting marijuana grow operations. Marijuana is a "drug" Canadians repeatedly say, when polled, they don't believe should be subject to criminal incarceration. In the U.S., marijuana arrests, thanks to devices like mandatory minimum sentences and so-called "three strikes" laws account for hundreds of thousands of non-violent offenders being held behind prison bars.
Another of the soft-pedaled provisions of the proposed legislation is a closer cooperation with American law enforcement in dealing with drugs issues.The possible, and probable, effects of that proposal worry Canadians concerned about the country's sovereignty being further eroded in an era of cross-border regulations "harmonization."
Some of the effects of information sharing between America's Federal Bureau of Investigation and Canadian border authorities illustrated these worries when American peace activists were refused entry into Canada for a peace summit on the grounds they had arrest records for their civil disobedience activities at home. Refusal at the border for politically active Americans trying to enter Canada is a growing phenomenon, and one some argue takes time away from border agents that could better be used stemming the flow of weapons and dangerous drugs illegally smuggled into the country.
The political element of Harper's proposal was made evident during his Wednesday press conference, held in front of Winnipeg's Salvation Army. Excoriating the country's decades-old "drug-friendly" attitude, Harper said;
"Police and others fighting the battle against drug abuse are up against a culture that since the 1960s has done little to discourage drug abuse and often romanticized it - romanticized it or made it cool, made it acceptable." Adding;
"As a father I don't say all these things blamelessly. My son is listening to my Beatles records and asking me what all these lyrics mean. It's just there, it's out there. I love these records and I'm not putting them away. But, that said, there has been a culture that has not fought drug use and that's what we're all up against."
Those targets on Stephen Harper's "battleground" are already worried what this will mean for them. In Vancouver, where disease and mortality because of drugs use is the most extreme in Canada, a "safe-injection" program, initiated in 2002 and opened in 2003 could see its federal controlled-substance exemption status revoked.
Harper, and his current health minister, Tony Clement have both voiced doubts about the morality and health efficacy of so-named "harm-reduction" policies like safe injection sites in the past.
Reinforcing supporters of Vancouver's Insite project concern about the direction Harper is moving with this legislation, addressing the issue the prime minister said Wednesday;
"I remain a skeptic that you can tell people that we won't stop the drug trade, we won't get you off drugs, we won't even send messages to discourage drug use but somehow we will keep you addicted but reduce the harm just the same." Adding;
"If you remain a drug addict, I don't care how much harm you reduce, you are going to have a short and miserable life."
It's an attitude Dr.Thomas Kerr, a professor at the University of British Columbia's Department of Medicine bristles at. Kerr charges the government is selectively interpreting data so far gleaned from Insite, saying;
"The government continues to misrepresent the science around harm reduction. In the case of Insite we have shown that there has been a 33-per-cent increase in the rate of entry into detox programs. In no way is the facility perpetuating addiction. In fact, it's helping people quit drug use."
Tim Stockwell of The Centre for Addiction Research at the University of Victoria is critical too of Harper's proposal, saying;
“Harm reduction strategies such as needle-exchanges and safe injections sites have been proven to reduce the spread of hepatitis C and HIV among injection drug users."
While legal and medical professionals continue to raise objections over the course of the current government's proposed policy, it seems clear; the prime minister will not be deterred from his course of making of Canada an exact, if mere reflection of his spiritual home south of the 49th, and true to that ideology, it is not the epidemic of the downtown East Side of Vancouver, or the lives made “short and miserable” that matter, but the money that can be made from that disaster that counts.
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