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Mandatory Backfire

The Quality of<br>Justice Strained

Beryl P. Wajsman

19 March 2005

“Extreme justice is extreme injustice “

~ Cicero, “De Oficiis”


Justice Minister Cotler’s opposition to mandatory minimum sentences for marijuana grow-up owners deserves support from all Canadians. As he has argued, minimum mandatories will “backfire”--as they have most recently in the U.S. under Patriot Act provisions--and he is right that studies in many countries have concluded that minimum sentences do not work as deterrents even for much greater crimes.


The murders of the four RCMP officers will be made all the more tragic if their deaths produce a legacy of national reaction for more legal recidivism that seeks to regulate morality and legislate virtue. For that reason the consideration by the recent Liberal convention of a resolution to toughen laws against marijuana growers is also cause for concern.


Recent history, from the time of Prohibition in 1920’s America, has demonstrated that attempts by the state to engage in social engineering are doomed to failure. People will always get what they want. And in so doing strengthen the so-called criminal elements among us. The four officers died enforcing drug laws that had no business being on the books. And from the time of Prime Minister Trudeau, successive governments have tried, and failed, in the face of virulent opposition from the  right, to get them off the books.


To those who would argue that the health costs of indulgence in tobacco, alcohol and drugs are a strain on the health-care system, we would remind them that citizens who indulge in these pursuits pay enormous consumption taxes on the products they buy--eight times greater than average Canadians--most of which go to support the health-care system. They also tend to die younger thereby being less of a burden on the chronic-care system. That is their choice. And choices, as Minister Cotler has pointed out in his arguments for studying the decriminalization of assisted suicide, are the essence of a free society.


When Trudeau said that government has no place in the bedrooms of the nation he also meant that it had no role regulating victimless actions of consenting adults. Not everything is going to be perfect in life. Not every problem can be solved by legislation. No politician should pretend it can and be allowed to put into force straightjacket law that seeks to micro-manage every aspect of our lives.  As Terence wrote some two thousand years ago, “Rigorous law is often rigorous injustice.”


This nation seems to be caught up in the sweep of the new prohibitionists. First to restrict, last to discuss. Government’s role must be one of persuasion and education, not compulsion and coercion, no matter how odious a citizen’s personal habit may be. The dark-side of  our governors is that they engage in unbridled intervention in matters of private domain to punish the governed into virtuous conduct. But legislators don’t know what’s right for us. They barely know what’s right for themselves. The role of the state is to protect us from each other, not from ourselves..


The Federal government makes purring noises about decriminalizing marijuana, but at the same time proposes to give police unlimited powers to stop drivers for random drug checks in their cars and now to introduce mandatory sentencing.


Those Ministers and MP’s who call themselves Liberals but who would support these patently contradictory and hypocritical policies should know that there are many Canadians who are watching and who have come to the realization that this is nothing but a balancing act to pander at the same time to the most retrograde elements of the revanchiste right and to the most intrusive nanny-state social engineers of the left in a feeble and transparent attempt to keep a minority government alive.  Duty and honour lie wounded in the wake  of these political machinations and their authors should realize that there will be a call to account  come election time.


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