Law and Order, Order and Law

I’m not particularly a “Law and Order” guy.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m pretty much on the opposite end of the spectrum from hardened criminal element here.  My mommy says I’m a nice boy, and if you’ve been reading here you’ll know that my cornerstones are my all and I genuinely want to create positive change in the world.  I just don’t buy  “If you do the crime, do the time.“  It’s empty rhetoric to me.

Now, my values tend to reflect the more traditional end of the scale and I’m pretty okay with that.  Social mores don’t come from a vacuum, they tend to be tried and tested principles that have stood the test of time and bonded our society together.  Still, there are subtleties and differing opinions that make all the difference in the world.

When I was in university, I had a professor insist that prisons were for punishment and punishment only, and rehabilitation of criminals was a fallacy.  She will have to rail the rest of her days, and still will fail to convince me of the validity of her argument.  Quite simply, I believe there are subtleties too numerous for a black and white case.  Some persons will need to be locked forever in a prison.  There will be others for whom being in prison will be the least appropriate place to be incarcerated.  We are individuals, we have individual responses and individual needs.

There are a storm of issues this week that are demonstrating just why I will forever be separate and apart from the Law and Order adherents.

The first off is the cuts in the Restorative Justice program.  To me, it is yet another example of the myopia in our provincial government that is driven by opinion polls and ideology and a absence of leadership.  To me, it’s an annoyance because it’s restricting the options we have to deal with fellow citizens and we need as many options as is feasible.  Then I read this piece of brilliant insight by Danielle Klooster and I feel my blood pressure rise.  This is a short sighted, horrible choice and needs to be reversed immediately.  I look to Danielle for leadership precisely because she can describe explicitly why such a program is so important.  Her explanation has helped turn my unease to clear, straightforward, informed opinion.

The second is the distracted driving law that comes into effect this week.  In a nutshell, this is a terrible law that should never see the light of day.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with saying certain behaviours are unacceptable while driving - in fact it’s quite the opposite!  Some behaviours while driving are simply irresponsible and recklessly dangerous.  Unfortunately, the law as written adds nothing to the mix.

We already have a law that states you must not drive with undue care and attention.  There is absolutely nothing that the distracted driving law adds to that.  Instead it confusingly lists a series of actions that are unacceptable and leaves it to the police to interpret and enforce without guidance until it is tested in the courts.  A range of actions that are distracting may or may not be illegal and it’s near impossible to figure out where the lines will be drawn.  Here’s my prediction:  We’re going to see a rash of tickets in the following months, followed by less and less enforcement until such time that the only tickets that are issued happen in correlation with a collision on the road.  I hope I’m wrong, but if “Driving with undue care and attention” is essentially unenforceable now, I have no idea how Distracted Driving is going to fare any better.  It’s a feel-good law that says “We have the toughest in the country - nay - in the WORLD!” while not really generating anything other than a new source of penal income.

When I get stopped at a red light, I count the drivers talking on a cell phone as they drive past.  My rough estimation is that ten percent of all drivers are talking on the phone while driving at any given time.  That’s an awful lot of $172 tickets.  I have no faith that that number of tickets will be handed out, nor do I have faith that the tickets that are handed out will significantly alter driving behaviours.

The third thing bothers me the most.  I vividly remember the murder of Lucy Turmel.  I remember the test case of DNA evidence being brought forward for a conviction.  I have absolutely zero sympathy in me for her killer, I can only think of a beautiful young woman who deserved a happy life today.  I’m not feeling mamby-pamby here, as far as I’m concerned he can rot in jail.

I wonder if I’m cold and calloused.  Or perhaps biased because she was young and pretty.  I’m having a hard time tonight reconciling the first and the last.

The problem, for me, is the middle.  The bad laws that are passed.  The meaningless laws.  The ill-defined laws.

When the provincial government went into deficit spending on our budget, why did we not have RCMP swarming the legislature slapping the cuffs on every government MLA in sight?  After all, deficits were outlawed in Alberta!

The answer is that it was just an empty platitude of a law.  Something to be abrogated at will when it became inconvenient.

Law and Order requires good laws that are clear, understandable, consistent and meaningful.  Punishments must be fair and equitable.  All citizens must live under the rule of law, it is the very reason for the Magna Carta and that has served us well for almost 800 years.

The junk laws are demeaning justice.  You have probably broken a law today.  I will not be hypocritical and demand punishment of someone else while expecting forgiveness for myself.  First we have to clean up this mess of a legal system we have.  Let’s start with more community involvement, fewer junk laws and have a real debate before any law gets passed.