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The public does not understand criminal justice

Yesterday, December 5th 2008, Sasan Ansari was sentenced to five years in prison for manslaughter. Ansari admitted to stabbing the deceased, Joshua Goos, 33 times. The details of the crime are horrific. Ansari first stabbed Goos while they were both sitting in a parked SUV. Goos then tried to flee. He was chased down and stabbed repeatedly. It is a horrible and ghastly crime. Ansari raised a defence that he was in a dissociative state at the time, he could not remember anything that happened, it was as if his mind had shut off and his body was acting completely of its own accord. Clearly the jury accepted Ansari’s defence, at least in part.

There is now outrage about the 5 year sentence given to Ansari. The outrage stems largely from an ignorance of the criminal justice system, and the fact that Crown inflamed public sentiment by calling this a “near murder” during submissions on sentencing. There is no such thing as a “near murder” in Canada.

People usually fail to understand that our criminal justice system is one designed to serve society, not the accused/convicted and the victims. The state prosecutes crimes, the state houses criminals, and the state even compensates victims in many cases. There is a strong society interest in the criminal justice system. The point of jail sentences is not simply to punish people. It is also to protect society, but more importantly, to attempt to reform the convicted. Ansari is a prime example of a person who can truly change, truly learn from his horrible mistake, and once he has served time in prison, will hopefully dedicate at least part of his life to making amends for what he has done.

I have never been able to understand why people think the only appropriate response to a loss of life is to go out and completely ruin another life. Joshua Goos is gone from this world. I cannot imagine the pain that his family has gone through, and will continue to have to cope with for the res of their lives. I have always tried to avoid vengeance as my primary motive for anything. I would hope that if a loved one of mine were killed, that something positive could come out of their death. I would hope that their killer would come to see just how destructive their actions were and would work to make amends for their actions.

Sasan Ansari may have gotten off a little light for what he has done. A five year sentence is not out of the ordinary for the crime of manslaughter, and a convicted like Ansari. He has no criminal record. He has a strong background of community service. Though five years seems light for taking a life, Ansari’s life has been changed forever. Ansari had been a law student up until recently, it is now highly unlikely that he could ever become a lawyer. He will have to live with the shame and grief of what he has done for the rest of his life. It will be a tough road ahead for Ansari, but I think that he has a good chance of not only accepting responsibility for what he has done, but also working hard to make amends for what he has done.

The focus of our criminal justice system should not be to punish, but rather, to rehabilitate. We need to focus on rehabilitating those who are convicted, those who are victims, and society as a whole. Whenever a crime is committed there is damage to the victim, the criminal, and to society. The criminal justice system tries to address the grievances of all three parties. The public, however, usually seems bent on a lust for vengeance, which leads to nothing but more destruction and heart ache.


December 6, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | 12 Comments

Prorogation is a good result but could set a bad precedent

I am pleased that the Governor General agreed to prorogue the House today. I think that all parties need some time to think things over and to re-establish communication between the opposition parties and the government. It is not at all clear whether or not the Conservatives will be able to survive a confidence vote in January, but at least they have now been given the opportunity to make amends for their extremely poor choices over the last couple of weeks.

I still think that Stephen Harper should resign. I know he will not resign, but he clearly has shown that he cannot work well with the opposition parties. Harper is a bully, he tried to utilize the economic crisis as a cover to financially cripple his opponents. Since Harper will almost certainly not resign, he instead needs to do some very serious soul searching. He needs to rethink and reshape his dealings with the opposition. If Harper hopes to avoid a defeat on the budget he should get started right away on negotiating a budget with the opposition that will address their major concerns. I do not think Stephen Harper is capable of working with the opposition in a collaborative manner. I think he simply cannot change his bullish attitude.

While I think that prorogation was not a bad option, it could potentially have set a terrible precedent for Canadian politics. What happens the next time a government is certain it will lose on a confidence vote. Will the Governor General consider delaying confidence votes in other sorts of situations? Clearly this was a unique circumstance. There was an election less than two months ago. The government had not passed any legislation in the new sitting. There is an alternative government in waiting. It is unlikely that a situation such as this will ever occur again.

Perhaps the decision to prorogue Parliament this time can be seen as a positive though. If the Governor General had instead forced Harper to face the opposition’s confidence motion, she would have pretty much had to accept the coalition government’s offer to form a new government. If that had happened, then the next time we end up with a minority government, the opposition parties may quickly unite and defeat the government and form their own coalition. I think that it is important that the party that wins the most seats be given every opportunity to govern.

Clearly Harper had no regard for his opposition. He must have assumed that they did not have the stomach to oppose him on the fiscal update. Harper has rightfully backed down on the worst proposals in the fiscal update. The opposition claims that they have the right to defeat the government because there is no immediate economic stimulus package. It is not entirely true to say that there is no economic stimulus package, there just isn’t much of one. It is not entirely unwise for Harper to wait until January to announce any major economic spending. It will be more clear in late January what actions the US government is going to take. Announcing major spending for the Canadian auto sector, only to find that the US is going to do little or nothing about the problem, would mean that the Canadian government had completely wasted any money given to the auto sector. While perhaps something should have been done immediately to help the economy, the time for massive spending is in late January or early February of 2009, not immediately.

The government and the opposition now have the time to work out a compromise on the budget. I think that it is incumbent on all parties to do their utmost to work together. Canada needs strong and decisive leadership right now, not just from the government. I fear that due to the personalities involved, particularly that of Stephen Harper, there will be no great compromise. Come January 26, 2009 we could very well see the opposition moving to defeat the government. It is unclear however, depending on what is in the budget, whether or not the Governor General would dissolve Parliament, or allow the proposed coalition the chance to govern.

December 4, 2008 Posted by | Politics | , , | Leave a comment

Stephane Dion is not worth the risk

I would like to start out by saying that I consider myself to be a Liberal supporter. I do not always vote Liberal, and I have never been a member of the party, but generally I like the party and what it stands for. I also want to say that I was at first quite excited about Dion as leader of the Liberal Party. I did not think, and still do not think, that either Michael Ignatieff, or Bob Rae, would make great leaders. Having seen Dion do such a terrible job of leading his party in an election, and now having seen him completely butcher an extremely important address to the nation, I am convinced that he could not possibly be a good Prime Minister.

Regardless of his substance, Dion just cannot communicate effectively in English. Clearly, Dion did not connect with Canadians, he led the Liberals to their worst electoral result since 1867. Communication is extremely important for the leader of Canada. Heading into what is likely to be the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, it will be extremely important for the PM to work together with other leaders around the world. The only leaders that Dion could hope to communicate with effectively are those that speak French. More importantly, it will be necessary for the PM to effectively communicate with the Canadian people, to avoid the kind of panic that could truly cripple our economy. If he were to become Prime Minister, Dion would surely be the worst communicator to ever hold that position.

For the record, I also do not think that Stephen Harper is the right person to lead Canada in these troubling times. It was Harper who decided that it was a good idea to gut public financing for political parties and to remove the right to strike for public employees. It was Harper’s terrible ideas that led to this political crisis. If the Conservative government manages to survive the next couple of months, the party should look to replace Harper with someone more willing, and more able to work with the opposition.

December 3, 2008 Posted by | Politics | , | Leave a comment

If Harper loves his country he will resign as Prime Minister

I am horrified by what is going on in Ottawa right now. Stephen Harper deserves to be punished for his attempt to use an economic crisis to cripple funding for the Liberals, NDP, and the Bloc, and for the proposal to remove the right to strike for public servants. I am not particularly upset that the economic update did not have any sort of stimulus package. The time for a full fledged stimulus package will be in late January or early February once it is more clear what the Obama administration is going to do in the USA.

Harper has rightly backed down on the idea of cutting public financing of political parties, and on removing the right to strike for the public service. They were terrible ideas, driven by ideology, not by any sort of economic savings as Harper tried to frame the two. Having backed down on those two points, I cannot see any reason for the Liberals, NDP, and the Bloc to continue with their bizarre scheme to bring down the Conservatives and form a government comprised of three parties that can agree on little except that they do not like Stephen Harper. The policy positions of the Liberals, NDP, and the Bloc are different enough that I cannot see them passing more than one budget. Even one budget may do enough damage to the credibility of the Liberals to ensure that in the next election the Conservatives will finally win their majority.

It seems fairly clear that Dion, Layton, and Duceppe are now committed to the coalition government course of action. Relations with Stephen Harper are so damaged that I cannot see how the House could function effectively. Stephen Harper seems to be the root of the problem though. It was apparently Harper’s idea to throw in the cuts to public funding for political parties. While I do not like the Conservative Party generally, I do think that Harper more of an ideologue and schemer than most of the Conservative caucus. I think that if Harper loves his country, and wants the best for his party, he should resign as Prime Minister. Whoever the interim PM is should then put forward a strong economic stimulus package to the opposition. Should the opposition still not be interested in working out a deal with the government, then the interim PM should let the opposition defeat the government and ask the Governor General to dissolve Parliament.

I think that if the proposed coalition had rejected a strong economic stimulus package, put forward by someone other than Stephen Harper, then the Governor General could, and should, order that Parliament be dissolved and Canadians once again go to the polls.

Harper created this mess, and he can probably fix it, but it will mean the end of his political career. The Conservatives needed to be thinking about whether or not Harper was the right leader for them even before this mess, and it is clear now that his style of politics is not what is going to lead them to a strong majority mandate from the people of Canada.

I want to make it clear that I am not in any way a supporter of the Conservatives, or of Stephen Harper, but I simply cannot see how a three headed government, led by a man clearly rejected by the Canadian public, can be a good option for leading the country through what could be the worst economic times in nearly 80 years. We need strong leadership, we need prudent but aggressive government intervention on the economy, and we need to work closely with the rest of the world on any economic stimulus. How can we expect a three headed government, led by Dion, to be able to instill any sort of confidence in international leaders. It will be unclear for other leaders exactly who holds the power in Canad. Dion will be Prime Minister in name only. He cannot possibly take any bold actions. The Liberals won only 26% of the popular vote, and hold less than 25% of the seats in the Commons. That is hardly the kind of support necessary to instill confidence when dealing with this economic crisis.

December 2, 2008 Posted by | Politics | , , | 1 Comment