Skip to content

More prisons don't make Canadians safer

Canadians should be jubilant because we live in a safe country with an ‘official’ crime rate that is decreasing. All of that taxpayers’ money invested in policing and the justice system has paid off.

Canadians should be jubilant because we live in a safe country with an ‘official’ crime rate that is decreasing. All of that taxpayers’ money invested in policing and the justice system has paid off. But has it? We learn now that there is actually more crime out there — we just do not report it and the solution to this ‘unofficial’ crime statistic is to build more prisons. We should feel safer now.

But this announcement should raise a number of questions, beyond just scratching our heads, with that quizzical look on our faces. Questions like what type of crimes are these and why are we not reporting them? In truth, we do ignore a lot of crimes out there and we have all probably committed a crime, whether knowingly or not, as there are many acts that we just do not consider criminal. White-collar crimes, as the criminologists label them, are the majority of criminal acts out there. These are acts such as taking office supplies, or even wasting time on the computer, which cost businesses money but do not seem to cause any observable harm. Such acts are usually self-justified by statements such as, “Well, it’s owed to me” or “I’ll make up the time.” Nevertheless, they are still crimes in the strictest sense, but will prisons help solve this?

On the other hand, if these unreported crimes are more violent or threaten our wellbeing, why are we not reporting them? What are we afraid of and why do we feel that government cannot protect us? This should be a worrying thought because if the government cannot protect us, then what is its purpose? How would building more prisons make our lives any safer? Surely it creating more laws and placing more law enforcement on the streets would serve Canadians better.

But maybe we are getting ahead of ourselves here. Maybe there is another agenda at hand. Maybe the government is using fear as a form of self-justification — creating a sense that our wellbeing is in danger. If Canadians believe there are more dangerous crimes out there, then any political party that stands tough on crime would become the de facto hero of Canada, even if that means the removing or restricting of our rights and freedoms. Just look at how security and paranoia have increased since 9/11. The recent G8/G20 summits demonstrated the lengths the government will allow our police to go to maintain ‘order’ in Canada.

Most Canadians are willing to allow our government to do anything, as long as the liberal ideals of ‘life, liberty, and property’ are protected. If we can walk down the street and feel free from being mugged, we should be quite happy. But what about all those other crimes that are going unreported? The corporate or institutional crimes, which include government, that are costing us as investors and taxpayers? Can we expect the government to become more vigilant with these types of crimes? Or is this just the political rhetoric of a government that is trying to make itself look useful, cherry-picking those crimes that seem to transgress our sense of moral justice?

Of course, these words are written with just a hint of sarcasm, as we are fortunate to live in Canada. Crime is a problem for all societies and it will never be eradicated, not as long as there are laws, but we should always question the methods and intentions of our government when they produce new legislation. For what we might gain in protection on the one hand, might cost us our freedoms and rights on the other.

John Kennair is a doctor of laws and international consultant who lives in St. Albert.