I'm scared. You should be, too. We all should be. Sadly, far too many of us are.
We've been scared of Ebola. We've been scared of hardened criminals walking the streets because of a lenient justice system that cares far too much about them and far too little about victims of their crimes. We've been scared and scared again of terrorists, the ones far away in countries most of us can't find on a globe, and the ones in secretive cells lurking around every Canadian neighbourhood, waiting for the just-right moment to unleash holy jihadist hell on our poor, unsuspecting heads.
Personally, I'm scared of texting, or otherwise distracted, drivers. I'm scared of skiers and boarders with more gusto than skill traversing the savage pitfalls of icy slopes. I'm scared to drive the narrow roads around Smilin' Dog Manor after dark. And I'm particularly scared this propaganda theatre of fear and loathing being spun by our Mr. Harper — and paid for with our collective tax dollars — is going to work exactly the way he hopes it will, lodging him firmly back in power for another term of hard work dismantling many of the things many of us have assumed defines what it means to be Canadian.
My chances of coming into contact with someone carrying Ebola are nil. Jihadi terrorists? Far less probability than being struck by lightning... in a cave... underwater. As for paroled murders deciding to once again murder? I'm guessing that's an extremely long shot.
For starters, there aren't all that many prisoners convicted of first degree murder in this country. There are far fewer who would fit the definition of those our Mr. Harper wants to send to prison for life: those who commit particularly brutal first degree murder — a description so vague it's unlikely to stand a court challenge from a first-year law student — those who kill police or prison guards, kill during a sexual assault, a kidnapping or while committing an act of, yes, terrorism.
The difference between these murderers and your garden variety Canadian murderer is twofold. Badass murderers would have to spend a minimum of 35 years in prison before having any chance of release, mundane murderers only 25 before they can get parole. But the kicker — as in the element that'll most likely get this cockamamie law turfed on constitutional grounds — is what happens after those years of mandatory imprisonment.
Murderers appear before the Parole Board of Canada, an independent body who assess their suitability to be reintegrated into society, with, or without supervision and with varying degrees of freedom. The Board reports to Parliament but acts independently, without direction from either that body or cabinet ministers. Parole hearings are open to the public and the Board reports to the public annually.
Search all you want, but there is very little chance you are going to find an instance of the Board ever granting parole to a badass murderer. Twenty-five years is a minimum; badass murderers have a probability approaching certainty of dying in prison.
Under Mr. Harper's proposal, 35 years would be the minimum for this new category of murderers. At that point, BMs could petition cabinet for release. Cabinet — all elected MPs who would have to face the wrath of voters — would decide... in secret... with no requirement to report to the public.
Which of these scenarios sound more like the Canada you know than, say, the Star Chamber?
Will this "law" pass a constitutional challenge? The odds of it doing so are even less than the odds of you being killed on Canadian soil by a terrorist. If the 35-year provision sneaks past the "cruel and unusual" prohibition, the law's validity will hang on finding a secret, cabinet decision on releasing a prisoner is in keeping with Canada's tradition of enlightened jurisprudence. If that happens, it's time to give up what little hope is left for the country we once knew.
So why, if there is no demonstrable need to further punish those who commit the most heinous crimes, are we wasting time talking about this latest salvo from the good ship of Conservative Ideology? Because it'll play well with voters in an election year. Voters, the Conservatives are stumbling over themselves daily, with scare story after scare story, trying to convince Canadians Armageddon is only a short fuse away, there are terrorists lurking under every bed and murders hiding in the back seat of your dark, lonely car.
The same can be said of Bill C-51. Canada's "terrorists" have been handled quite well to date under existing criminal statutes. The Mad Murderer of Parliament Hill, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, murdered and was, in turn, killed. The hapless Via Rail bombers, Raed Jaser and Chiheb Esseghaier, were captured in much the same way people who try to hire hit men to kill their spouses are caught. John Nutcase and Amanda Kookoo, who wanted to blow up B.C.'s legislature on Canada Day... well, no Boston Marathon bombers were those two.
So were we lucky that Canada's been blessed with imbecilic terrorists? Maybe. Or maybe that's the only Canadian gene pool jihadi recruiters are likely to have much success fishing in.
And, for the sake of argument, let's suppose we need a more wide-reaching, secret police presence just in case smarter, less psychologically-damaged Canadians decide holy war makes more sense than Hockey Night in Canada. Why are Mr. Harper's Conservatives so dead set against providing the kind of civilian oversight other "enlightened" countries have opted for in their war against terror?
The answer to all these questions can be found in the fact this is an election year and the Harpercrites know the war on terrorism, the crackdown on imaginary crime and tougher sentencing for people who would never get out of prison anyway will play well to a scared, increasingly conservative public. It also explains why every cabinet minister, every talking parrot finds a way, in every public statement, to whip up fear in the minds of Canadians.
Oddly, this all reminds me of the 1972 break in of the Democratic National Committee offices in Washington's Watergate office complex. Richard Nixon was so bent on winning an election he had in the bag, and so scared of losing momentum on his own conservative agenda to remake the U.S., that he engaged in pointless overkill. George McGovern posed no tangible threat to Nixon winning another term as president. The resulting election was the fourth largest landslide in U.S. history.
It's difficult to believe Stephen Harper is so worried about losing the next election — or, increasingly, even losing his majority — he believes these extreme steps are necessary. That being said, it leaves only his stated desire to transform Canada into a country none of us will recognize as his true motivation.
And that, above all else, scares the hell out of me.
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