Tough Sentencing: Women and Children First

Guest post by Lisa Kerr

We are now familiar with the major criticisms of federal Conservative crime policies, especially their introduction of mandatory minimum sentences. Adrienne Smith, a health and drug policy lawyer with Pivot Legal Society, aptly summarized the problem with mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes as follows: “they are expensive and they don’t work.” Yet apart from the cost and the absence of deterrent effects, there is an additional problem that is worth drawing attention to. The removal of discretion from sentencing judges causes significant growth in female rates of incarceration.

Indeed, in the notorious American imprisonment binge of the last four decades, women have been the fastest growing inmate population. The number of imprisoned women rose from 15,118 to 112,797 between 1980 and 2010. If we include local jails in that figure, more than 205,000 American women are now incarcerated. The female rate of incarceration increased at nearly 1.5 times the rate of men (646% versus 419%).… Continue reading

Un nouveau paradigme pour le droit autochtone?

Par auteur invité Martin Papillon

Ça y est, c’est fait. La Cour suprême a reconnu pour la première fois à une nation autochtone un titre ancestral sur ses terres traditionnelles. La nation Tsilhqot’in est donc en quelque sorte propriétaire de plus de 2000 km2 dans le centre de la Colombie-Britannique. Elle pourra ainsi gérer ces terres à sa guise et, surtout, en bénéficier de manière exclusive.

Cette décision de la Cour suprême a fait couler beaucoup d’encre. Plusieurs commentateurs parlent de révolution, d’autres d’une décision aux conséquences dramatiques pour l’économie du pays. Plusieurs s’interrogent en particulier sur l’impact de cette décision sur les projets d’oléoducs, en pensant au controversé projet Northern Gateway, qui vient tout juste de recevoir l’approbation du gouvernement fédéral.  Qu’en est-il au juste? Cette décision change-t-elle radicalement le rapport de force entre les peuples autochtones, l’État canadien et les principaux acteurs de l’économie extractive?

Il faut d’abord préciser que cette décision est loin d’être une surprise.… Continue reading

The Conservative Exception

John Kenneth Galbraith famously wrote that “the modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.” I must admit to having shared this suspicion myself on more than a few occasions. I do, however, try to resist this claim, partly because for liberals it seems too self-congratulatory by half, and partly because many conservatives seem quite earnest in their rejection of it.

There are, of course, some exceptions to this, Ayn Rand being the most notable. Indeed, part of the reason that liberals love Rand – or love to pick out Rand as a focus of opprobrium – is that she divides things up in a way that they find quite congenial. In her view, the left believes in altruism and morality, while the right rejects the idea that anyone is obliged to care about the well-being of anyone else.… Continue reading

Enlightenment discounted

I did an enjoyable interview about Enlightenment 2.0 with Michael Enright for CBC’s Sunday Edition, which aired this past weekend (here).

Contrary to most of the publicity I’ve been doing, this one seems to have actually moved some product. As a result, Amazon is now selling the book at a deep discount. So if you’ve been sitting on the fence for a while, now’s the time to make your move!

 … Continue reading

The bottleneck in U.S. higher education

Given the current preoccupation in the United States with economic inequality, it is natural that a certain amount of attention has turned to higher education, and the fact that America’s most prestigious universities no longer really serve as a conduit for class mobility. Thomas Frank, for instance, has been on a tear (here and here) complaining in particular about the fact that tuition rates have gone up 1,200 per cent over the past 30 years. But he – along with all other American commentators that I’ve read – misses a more obvious problem. Even if America’s best universities stopped charging any tuition at all, it would hardly make a dent in social inequality. That’s because it would leave unaffected the most fundamental problem with America’s elite universities, which is that they have almost no students.

Canadians are used to hearing lamentations from south of the border about how competitive parenting has become in the United States – how if you want to get you kid into Yale, you have to start early, with a nanny with a BA delivering “enriched” care, piano or violin lessons, and entry into the most selective kindergarten as a gateway to the better private schools.… Continue reading

How’s that firewall working out for you guys?

So the federal government announced its “approval” of the Northern Gateway pipeline. The fact that the Prime Minister said nothing, the Minister of Natural Resources was nowhere to be found, and none of the government’s BC MPs were available for comment, says pretty much everything you need to know about the government’s own estimation that the thing will ever be built.

That they would approve it was a foregone conclusion, since failure to approve it would have been the final nail in the coffin of the Keystone XL pipeline. (One of the major talking points of American Keystone XL opponents is that, if pipelines are so fabulous, then why don’t Canadians just build them on their own soil, why do they have to go through the U.S.?) Furthermore, the only thing that the Harper government has really done in Ottawa, with any sort of consistency, is advance the interests of Alberta and the Alberta tar sands.… Continue reading

And exhale…

For all those who don’t care much about Ontario politics, my apologies for having laid it on a bit thick this past month. I pledge to be both less parochial and less partisan in the future. I did however feel obliged to write about the provincial election campaign underway (which culminated last night in the surprise election of a Liberal majority government), because like many people I was genuinely alarmed at how far to the right the Progressive Conservative party was positioning itself. On the one hand, this struck me as a poor strategic move, and a violation of one of the most elementary principles of electoral politics (once you have your base locked down, you move to the centre). On the other hand, people in this province are not going to keep electing the Liberal Party forever, eventually there has to be a change of government. So there was an obvious concern that the PCs might ride to power on anti-Liberal sentiment, despite having a platform that is quite far to the right of the vast majority of the electorate.… Continue reading

Tenured moderates

There’s been a bit of buzz around a recent study by Kyle Dodson, assistant professor of sociology at the University of California at Merced, showing that interaction with professors tends to have a moderating influence on the political views of students (contrary to the claim that professors have a “radicalizing” influence on students). This from Inside Higher Ed:

With regard to political views, academic engagement promoted moderation. “[T]he results indicate — in contrast to the concerns of many conservative commentators — that academic involvement generally moderates attitudes,” Dodson writes. “While conservative students do become more liberal as a result of academic involvement, liberals become more conservative as a result of their academic involvement. Indeed it appears that a critical engagement with a diverse set of ideas — a hallmark of the college experience — challenges students to re-evaluate the strength of their political convictions.”

The data on student activities demonstrate the opposite impact: The more involved that liberal students get, the more liberal they become, while the more involved conservative students get, the more conservative they become.” This finding suggests that students seek out and engage with familiar social environments — a choice that leads to the strengthening of their political beliefs.”

I’m happy that someone decided to study this, as the result certainly accords with my own experience.… Continue reading

Why a Conservative government would be bad for Ontario

Like many people, I’ve spent a lot of time fussing over the astonishingly mendacious campaign that the Progressive Conservative party has been running in Ontario. The centrepiece of it all was the fiasco of the “million jobs plan,” which turned out to be based on ridiculously faulty math. From there the PCs moved on to a campaign ad called “Truth,” the central premise of which was an obvious falsehood (“The truth is,” Hudak intoned, “that a million people in our province woke up this morning without a job” — this is true only if you count children and seniors. There are only about a half-million people looking for work in Ontario.) And the strategy has been the same at all levels. Just the other day, I got a flyer at home from my local PC candidate, with a picture of a subway train one side – along with a promise to build new subways – and a commitment to lowering my taxes on the other side.… Continue reading