Latest Drug War News

GoodShop: You Shop...We Give!

Shop online at and a percentage of each purchase will be donated to our cause! More than 600 top stores are participating!

The Internet Our Website

Global and National Events Calendar

Bottoms Up: Guide to Grassroots Activism

Prisons and Poisons

November Coalition Projects

Get on the Soapbox! with Soap for Change

November Coalition: We Have Issues!

November Coalition Local Scenes

November Coalition Multimedia Archive

The Razor Wire
Bring Back Federal Parole!
November Coalition: Our House

Stories from Behind The WALL

November Coalition: Nora's Blog

May 25, 2006 - Winnipeg Free Press (CN MB)

Column: Canada Wages Phoney War On Crime

By Val Werier

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

THE United States puts more people behind bars than any other western democracy. So why is the Conservative government looking to the U.S. as a model in its war on crime? It is a phoney war because crime has declined in Canada.

Traffic in drugs is a serious problem, but it won't be solved by filling our jails, clearly shown in the American experience.

The government wants longer sentences with mandatory minimums for more serious crimes. It also wants to curb use of conditional sentences that impose house arrest instead of jail and may require community work and restitution to the victim.

Russell Smandych, a professor of criminology at the University of Manitoba, calls this policy "backward, restrictive and harmful."

It removes the discretion of judges and it assumes all offenders are of one mould. Government policy will put more people in jail contrary to the evidence that keeping people in the community is the way to go. And the costs are enormous -- $81,000 to $100,000 to keep a prisoner in a federal penitentiary.

Canada is not soft on crime as the Conservatives would have us believe. Canada is in the mid mark of western democracies in jailing people. The U.S. tops the list with more than two million prisoners.

According to the International Centre for Prison Studies in the U.K., figures for 2002 show the U.S. with 702 prisoners per 100,000 population; Russia, 628 and Canada, 116. In Scandinavian countries it runs from about 60 to 80 per 100,000 people.

Evidence of extensive research shows imposing longer sentences does not deter crime. Smandych notes that European crime rates are comparable to the U.S. but the incarceration rates and the sentences are much lower in Europe.

One reason for the lower rate of incarceration in Scandinavia is the wide use of conditional sentences. In Finland, after the introduction of conditional sentences, the incarceration rate dropped from 180 per 100,000 population in 1950 to about 70 today.

Do we want to reverse this process in Canada? Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said the tougher measures will go a long way to stop "the epidemic of guns, gangs and drugs that is plaguing our cities."

The U.S. record does not substantiate the emphasis on harsher measures. The government began imposing mandatory minimum sentences on drug offences in 1986. Since that time, according to the U.S. Centre on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, the number of Americans put behind bars on drug convictions has risen from 38,000 to 458,000 in the year 2000.

Writes Peter McKnight, columnist for the Vancouver Sun: "This is higher than the total number of people imprisoned for all offences in European countries, despite the fact the European Union has 100 million more citizens than the U.S."

Mandatory minimum sentencing can be harsh because it prevents judges from dealing in the fairest manner with the circumstances of the case.

In past years, House of Commons' committees have studied the incidence of crime and have listed among the chief causes alienation, poverty, lack of opportunity, family breakdown, mental illness and substandard housing.

And invariably at the time of every federal election political parties will campaign on law and order and demand tougher measures to curb crime. It is used as a vote catcher and can be effective in the face of media reports of gang crimes and the awful toll of drug trafficking.

Unquestionably the scourge of violent gangs and drugs must be addressed. But overlooked is the whole picture: Violent crime has been declining in most of the past two decades. And the record shows that throwing the book at offenders hits the poorest and most vulnerable in society. First Nations people are incarcerated at a rate seven to eight times higher than the rest of the population!

The same is true of blacks and Hispanics south of the border. In 2004, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice, there were 3,218 male blacks in prison per 100,000 population, compared to 1,220 Hispanic and 462 white males.

Clearly more of the underprivileged go to jail. Do we want to accentuate those figures in Canada?

Federal justice officials estimate that restricting conditional sentences would probably increase the number in provincial jails by 3,800, a hike of 15 to 20 per cent. The U.S. rate of incarceration is more than six times the rate in Canada. Do we want to follow that trend?

Instead of building more prisons we should ask why so many First Nations are behind bars in the first place.

For the latest drug war news, visit our friends and allies below

We are careful not to duplicate the efforts of other organizations, and as a grassroots coalition of prisoners and social reformers, our resources (time and money) are limited. The vast expertise and scope of the various drug reform organizations will enable you to stay informed on the ever-changing, many-faceted aspects of the movement. Our colleagues in reform also give the latest drug war news. Please check their websites often.

The Drug Policy Alliance
Drug Reform Coordination Network
Drug Sense and The Media Awareness Project

Working to end drug war injustice

Meet the People Behind The U.S. Sentencing Guidelines

Questions or problems? Contact