Being smart on crime

Conservative pundits have rallied around recent Stats Canada numbers, claiming that they prove at last that the Manitoba government has failed in making Winnipeg “feel safer.” These allegations centre around what I feel is the mythological NDP “soft on crime” policies supposedly to blame for the perceived crime wave in the province, and that a Conservative “tough on crime” policy is what is needed to quell the surge.

While an article in the August 17, 2011 issue of the Manitoban, “A Common Sense Justice System,” by Spencer Fernando claims the NDP has allowed crime to flourish, I feel the author fails to recognize overall crime rates in Manitoba have actually decreased since the NDP took government. Also, the tough on crime approach simply sweeps the problem behind bars and onto the taxpayer — another $9 billion on new prison facilities — rather than through investments in preventative supports such as childcare, recreation centres, health, addictions and educational services, community policing, and poverty alleviation measures. 

It seems the Conservatives are more concerned about the perception of crime than dealing with the root causes of crime and measures that will help to ensure at-risk individuals are provided support that would prevent the likelihood of committing criminal acts in the first place.

Part of the tough on crime mantra also focuses on the concept that victims of crime deserve reconciliation, and rightly so. However, the fact that the federal government is threatening to scrap the long-gun registry despite opposition from the Canadian Association of Police Chiefs and victims’ organizations does not, in my opinion, send a friendly message to victims of crime, nor to the greater community.

In fairness, while overall crime rates have decreased, Manitoba is still the top-of-the-stats in inter-provincial comparisons. However, in my opinion, the parallels the McFadyen Conservatives are attempting to draw between crime and provincial NDP policy is misguided. The real parallels should be drawn between crime and Manitoba’s high poverty rates.

It is no secret crime and poverty are inextricably linked. Poverty is disproportionately centred in Manitoba’s aboriginal population: 10 per cent of Winnipeg’s population is aboriginal and yet make up 25 per cent of those living in poverty. A whopping 71 per cent of all sentenced admissions in provincial correctional facilities are aboriginal, but aboriginal affairs are constitutionally a federal jurisdiction.

I think that the Conservatives view crime in Manitoba with a frighteningly narrow lens. I don’t believe increasing incarceration rates and introducing mandatory minimum sentences — sentencing is a matter of judiciary integrity, due process and moral responsibility — and simply adding more police officers will reduce crime rates nor will it reduce recidivism, nor do I think it will provide justice to the victims and their families. If the London riots have taught us anything, it’s ignoring the root causes of crime and providing little to no support for impoverished and marginalized communities will simply lead to disaster.

Manitobans with common sense will understand dealing with crime is a complex issue extending beyond the criminal justice system and into health, education and community services.

David Jacks is a local student and community activist, with a focus on poverty, the environment, education and crime.