Crime and Punishment and Deregulation

The Tories cleverly managed to crack two tough policy nuts with one blow: child care and crime. Earlier they gave single moms $100 a month for child care – it didn’t help much
with actually getting child care, but at least it helped pay for Pampers. But never
mind. As Rick Mercer pointed out at the time, they have another solution: put
the kids in jail.

Forget the facts:

  • Youth crime (crimes committed by kids under 18) is down.
  • Jail is where kids learn how to be better at being bad.
  • Jail is where kids are brutalized.
  • Jail is expensive.
  • Jail doesn’t work (recidivism rates were consistently over 75% when I studied the penal system and they still are).

The Tories are going to get tough on crime by educating more kids in how to be harder criminals and spending millions of dollars to build jails in which to teach them. If you
really want to cut crime, this, as the John Howard Society and any number of
criminologists will tell you, is precisely what you don’t do.

The Tories want to impose stiffer regulations for kids, but want to do away with them for others – food processors and airlines, for example.

The inquiry that Stephen Harper called to defuse the politics around the listeria outbreak will report by the end of July 2009. It will find that the federal government has relaxed its
regulation and inspection of the food industry to the extent that the public’s
safety is now in jeopardy.

The food industry has been lobbying to police itself for a long time. But it was only this year that the federal government decided, as requested by the industry, “to stop making
facility reports and rankings” as the Globe and Mail reported in August 2008). The Globe
uncovered a litany of violations by Canadian food processing plants, not
through the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, but through a public report from
the US Department of Agriculture. The USDA must audit Canadian plants before
allowing their exports into the States. The USDA report also stated that Canadian
inspections were inadequate.

And yet, the Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz (whose responsibility includes food safety) told the Globe: “We have a commitment to transparency.” This from the guy who later joked about the deaths of Canadians from listeria.

A CBC investigative report in September 2008 discovered that the Canadian government is about to hand off its responsibility for airplane safety to the industry. It has already reduced the
number of inspectors, even in the face of recommendations by the 2007 report of
the inquiry into the crash of an Air Canada plane that killed 24 people near
Dryden Ontario.

The proposal is patterned after industry deregulation in the US. There, whistle-blowing government inspectors have revealed a long list of airplanes flying with serious safety
violations. Instead of inspecting the planes themselves and grounding planes
that fail to pass inspection, US inspectors report on whether the airline has the ability to perform its own inspections and repairs. The same self-policing system is coming to Canada.

Does all this sound familiar? Yup, bad water in Walkerton. In the inquiry that followed, Justice O’Connor found that there was enough blame to go around but that the Ontario government
under Mike Harris had failed to protect people’s health by cutting back on both
regulations and government inspection. So, if Stephen Harper has his
way, the young hoodlums might not get you, but food poisoning will. And if that
doesn’t kill you, the next airplane you fly on might.

Imagine this: you’re rushing to make your flight. You had no time to eat. You just make your plane, you settle in, and you realize you’re starving. Along comes the flight attendant
with the sandwich tray: ham and cheese, chicken slices, salami and mayo.

I’ll take my chances down a dark alley in Toronto, thank you very much.

October 2008
© David McLaren


Update (
The Independent Investigator into the August 2008 listeriosis outbreak related to certain
processed meat products from Maple Leaf Foods shall submit a report to the
Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food by July 20, 2009.

Update (
March 18, 2011. Harper’s plan, contained in the Main Estimates that were tabled in Parliament on March 1, is clear. It projects a 10% cut – or $30 million – to the Food Safety and Nutrition Risks budget of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). This envelope of money is used to fund food inspection and safety programs. The cuts will be implemented in April 2011. This massive reduction in funding will have devastating consequences to Canada’s food safety program. It will ensure that the federal government will never implement the recommendations to fix the system made following the deaths of 22 people as result of eating contaminated Maple Leaf Foods cold cuts.


About David McLaren

David McLaren is an award-winning writer. He has worked in government and the private sector, with NGOs and First Nations in Ontario. He is currently writing from Neyaashiinigamiing on the shore of Georgian Bay and can be reached at In February 2015, he won the nomination for the NDP to represent the riding of Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound in the 2015 federal election. See that page for writings during the campaign.
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