Friday, February 15, 2013

Harper's Grotesque Spectacle

Maybe we should call him Sideshow Steve for, when it comes to distracting the Canadian public with gimmicks, Steve Harper has the instincts and moral compass of a carnival barker.

Steve reads people's fears and knows how to play them.   That much was evident when he recently staged a photo-op to announce that he was cracking down on mental illness.   In Harperland, those who "get off" from conviction for crimes on the grounds of mental incapacity can still be slammed up, in prison, indefinitely if the judge finds them "high risk" of something or other.   Not to a mental institution but locked away in that therapeutic wonderland, prison.  And violence is not a requirement either.   Non-violent types can also get a cell.

Carol Goar writes that Canadians are seeing through Harper's craven ploy:

Harper’s announcement was designed to tap into public anxiety. In recent memory, there have been three gruesome homicides by people with mental illness. In 2008, Schoenborn killed his children and Vince Li, who had schizophrenia, decapitated his seatmate on a Greyhound bus headed for Winnipeg. In 2009, Guy Turcotte, a Montreal cardiologist, brutally stabbed his two children in a bout of depression.

But none of these tragedies exposed “glaring gaps” in the justice system. The B.C. Review Board failed to contact Schoenborn’s ex-wife and children before granting him a day pass; a deadly human error. The Tribunal Adminstratif du Qu├ębec was duped by Turcotte, a long-time manipulator, into believing he posed no danger to society – a fatal misjudgment . No one knew Li was schizophrenic when he killed his seatmate. Harper’s legislation would have made no difference in his case.

More tellingly, the Prime Minister made no attempt to put these headline-making incidents in perspective. They constituted an infinitesimally small percentage of the cases adjudicated by provincial review boards. Ontario’s review board, for example, holds roughly 2,000 hearings a year, carefully weighing the evidence presented by the Crown, the accused, the hospital and other witnesses and striking a balance between the rights of the individual and the protection of the public. In the vast majority of cases, it gets it right.

It hurt to see Harper seize on a law that isn’t broken, reinforcing a stereotype so many Canadians are striving to eliminate.

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