An unrecognizable Canada

In the past few months, every time I open the newspaper I close it an hour later with a disturbing feeling in the pit of my stomach. What has happened to Canada? Really, what has happened to society in general?
But, for the purpose of this article, I will limit my complaints to the true North, strong and “free.” Really, I am just restrained from voicing all of my complaints due to the word limit.

Many right wing enthusiasts scoffed and rolled their eyes when the greater part of Canada warned them that our country would become a different society under Harper’s “majority.” But, as more and more articles appear in the news about Harper’s grand plans to transform our country into one resembling our less liberal neighbours to the south, I can’t help but lament our country’s fast track to an extreme conservative state. Let me provide several recent examples to illustrate this.

Texas politicians have recently disapproved of Bill C-10 — the new “crack-down” on Canadian crime. The bill calls for more minimum sentences, particularly for drug crimes. Rabble.ca quotes a criminology professor at a Toronto panel discussion as saying: “I teach an third-year criminology course at the University of Ottawa. Eighty per cent of my students are criminals under this legislation. About 10 to 20 per cent of them would be liable to a mandatory minimum sentence in a federal penitentiary of two years for simply passing a tab of ecstasy at a party on university campus.”

The Texans explained that they used a “tough on crime” approach, and all that resulted was billions of dollars spent on more prisons — not less crime. CBC News quotes Teresa May-Williams, a forensic psychologist, as saying that the tough on crime stance assumes that an offender’s drug problem will disappear while in prison. In reality, we will be spending obscene amounts of money to build prisons and put young offenders who have smoked pot into the criminal justice system. Once in the system, they will come in contact with real, hardened criminals and reintegration into society will become nearly impossible.

Since when is Canada so conservative that right wing Texans are criticizing our policies as ineffective and extreme? Even more confusing is why this bill is being introduced in the first place, when our country’s crime rate is at a 40-year low? In my opinion, this exposes how conservative Harper’s policies are becoming and how Canada is on the fast track to an exclusive and intolerant society.

Do we really want to be spending money that Canada doesn’t have on putting pot-smoking 14-year-olds into the system? What we need are community and preventative measures to help youth stay away from the drug trade and petty crime. Additionally, we need drug treatment centres for criminals who are legitimately addicted to drugs, rather than placing them in jails where drugs are still a problem — if you don’t believe me, please refer to a recent incident at Stony Mountain where drugs were being thrown into the courtyard.

On another note, Canada recently received an unwelcome visitor: George W. Bush. When news of the visit began to circulate, Amnesty International (AI) began to encourage Canada to arrest the former (and less than popular) president. Since the former president’s administration used interrogation techniques such as the war crime practice of waterboarding, AI urged Canada to hold Bush responsible. As a party of the UN Convention Against Torture, Canada has a right and responsibility to prosecute those in support of torture techniques.

Nevertheless, Bush’s visit to British Columbia came and went, not only without any investigation but included a $150,000 cheque of gratitude. AI quotes Canada’s Minister for Public Safety Vic Toews as saying: “Those who have been involved in war crimes or crimes against humanity will find no haven on our shores; they will be located and they will face consequences.”

Vic Toews’s quote exposes the deep hypocrisy evident in recent Canadian politics. I have to wonder what type of supporters of war crimes Toews is waiting for? We had a blatant supporter on Canadian soil and we did nothing but give him our attention and a big cheque. Perhaps the Canadian government is waiting for a war criminal from the East to arrive, someone who committed waterboarding against North American prisoners? Maybe then the Canadian government will take action.

Last, but certainly not least, is the controversial ending of the Canadian Wheat Board’s single desk. For a prime minister who seems to focus on the economy and lowering the unemployment rate in Canada, this new change might cause the rate to rise in one fell swoop. This decision could hit our own province hard. CBC News reports that Churchill, a town of just 1,000, will lose 200 jobs. Churchill MP Niki Ashton told the Globe and Mail: “We were aware of Stephen Harper’s agenda certainly in the overall sense. We didn’t know how ruthless he and his government were planning to be.”

This decision will allow the free market to work its “magic” under the invisible hand, an economic characteristic that Conservatives value greatly. Those who don’t value it? The farmers who are losing their jobs and who will not be able to sell their wheat and other products at the rate they previously were under the CWB.

These are just three of the many incidents that have dampened my spirits as of late. Those unmentioned include Harper’s dreams of tougher immigration laws and scraping the gun registry. For those of us who didn’t sign onto these right-winged policies, it is a scary time for Canada. One can only hope that our naturally inclusive and tolerant Canadian spirit will overcome the harsh, hypocritical and privatized atmosphere that is seeping into our country.

Rachel Wood is a political studies and criminology major fearful of the track her country is on.

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