With a double-digit lead in the polls and projections of a massive (and possibly historic) majority in the next election, the Conservative Party of Canada ought to be acting more like a government-in-waiting. Instead, its leaders are still acting as if they are auditioning for the role of Canada’s official — and obnoxious — Opposition by politicizing every available issue for partisan advantage. Its latest foray into rage-farming around the treatment of two high-profile murderers scrapes the bottom of a barrel that was already thoroughly explored.

First, the facts. Conservatives have tried to pretend the transfers of Paul Bernardo and Luka Magnotta to medium-security institutions were a direct result of changes made by the Liberal government under Bill C-83, which attempted to address concerns expressed by Canada’s courts over the use of solitary confinement and other highly restrictive forms of incarceration. In particular, they’ve suggested the insertion of language directing the Correctional Service of Canada to use the “least restrictive measures” (as opposed to “most appropriate or necessary”) was responsible for Bernardo and Magnotta leaving maximum security institutions. In reality, as Public Safety spokesperson Magali Deussing said last July, “a transfer would have also occurred under the previous language of ‘necessary’ restrictions.”

But that hasn’t slowed their efforts here in the least. Last month, Conservative justice critic Frank Caputo visited the institution where Bernardo is being held, and supposedly even entered his cell. He then complained that the inmates had access to a “beautiful gym,” a tennis court and a hockey rink where they could play pickup. Never mind, for the moment, that said rink hasn’t been in use for years, and its existence long predates the current government’s time in office. “Canada’s most horrific murderers are living better than most Canadians,” Caputo tweeted.

When reporters checked a few of Caputo’s facts, his party flew into a predictable outrage. “The lying Canadian Press is yet again carrying water for Justin Trudeau & his incompetent Liberal government,” Sebastian Skamski, Pierre Poilievre’s press secretary, wrote on social media. “Trudeau wants you to forget that HE changed the law to allow the most sadistic child rapists & serial killers to enjoy life with luxuries you don't have. Shame on @CTVNews, @CBCNews, @CityNewsTO, & @globeandmail for running this garbage.”

This is obvious nonsense, not least because medium-security prisons are still, you know, prisons. The presence of basic amenities, which exist as much to protect the staff working there as the inmates, does not mean they’re “living better than most Canadians.” It means we understand all these people, with a few notable exceptions, are eventually getting out of prison. As such, we’d do well to maximize their odds of being able to successfully reintegrate into society. As the Globe and Mail’s Tony Keller wrote, “Nearly every person behind bars in Canada is going to get out eventually. These are your future neighbours. I’d happily devote a lot more of my tax dollars to trying to help them become good neighbours, or at least less dangerous ones.”

The entire “tough on crime” approach is more about feelings than facts. Benjamin Perrin, once Stephen Harper’s lead criminal justice adviser, suggests it ought to be rebranded as “stupid on crime” given that it actually tends to increase recidivism and the costs associated with the administration of justice. “These reactionary policies are based on fear, and not any evidence they will actually work. Even worse, these ‘tough on crime’ measures have been shown to be costly, ineffective and deadly.”

If we’re actually looking for a way to make our communities safer, he says, we’d do well to look at the examples being set in smarter jurisdictions. “Since abandoning a punitive approach in favour of one of rehabilitation, Norway achieved a significant drop in recidivism rates from between 60 per cent [and] 70 per cent to just 20 per cent.”

But, of course, that’s not really what Conservatives like Poilievre and Caputo are looking for. Instead, as with most issues these days, they’re looking to keep their base of supporters angry and motivated. None of this is to suggest that Bernardo or Magnotta are deserving of our mercy, but keeping them locked up in maximum security prisons and denied access to things like recreational opportunities or basic nutrition isn’t going to undo their horrific crimes. As the Toronto Star’s Bruce Arthur wrote, “You can reasonably argue Bernardo should be in a maximum-security prison, with fewer amenities and less relative freedom. You just can’t argue it makes anyone any safer.”

As the increasingly inevitable government-in-waiting, the Conservatives should focus more on addressing people’s fears and frustrations than finding new ways to feed them. Perhaps as the CPC’s justice critic, Caputo could talk to Washington Gov. Jay Inslee about his own visits to Norway’s prisons and learn a bit about how they do things there.

Canada would benefit from a thoughtful national conversation about whether the "tough on crime" approach preferred by Conservatives actually works to reduce crime. That's not what we're getting from Pierre Poilievre or his various proxies.

Then again, that assumes Caputo and his party are actually more interested in solutions than slogans. With a leader who sees everything through the prism of partisan politics and seems far happier inflaming tensions than soothing them, any nuanced conversations about how best to keep Canadians safe will have to wait. If the polls are any indication, it might be a long one.

Updates and corrections

| Corrections policy
March 15, 2024, 02:27 am

This story has been updated with the correct spelling of Conservative MP Frank Caputo's name.

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Frank Caputo is my MP. I have written to him several times about Climate Change and met with him once on the issue. The responses have always been the basic Conservative Party line of various forms of climate change denialism (although he does say he has an electric car). To me, he seems to be a "yes man" for PP and CPC.

As a result, I have no representation from this MP. It's so disappointing that we didn't get Proportional Representation, as promised by Justin Trudeau in 2015.

I feel great sadness that PP and the CPC have chosen to use the politics of fear a rage in order to get elected. Instead they could focus on the issues of the day (what are they going to do about the Climate Emergency!?), and the public good.

Well said, Patricia. I share your dismay, and I agree with your comments 100%.

agree totally!

We know more jail time or people in jail doesn't work, but the Conservatives and PP are experts in gaslighting. Just look at Alberta as well. Kenney and Smith
Then look at Norway but many Canadians hust deal with morning coffee groups of seniors discussing their conservative view on how to solve supposed issues. Put them in jail high on their list

I really feel like a lot of what the Conservatives (and Republicans) say these days has crossed certain lines, and the rest of the establishment is just continuing to pretend they're still observing the same rules everyone else does and Progressive Conservatives used to. So for instance, that thing Sebastian Skamski said. That's libel, isn't it? The facts are not in dispute or subject to interpretation, his claim is false, and it is calculated to make Trudeau look like he's actively trying to help out disgusting murderers and various news outlets as if they are aiding and abetting such an endeavour. How is that not libel? But nobody's suing 'em because traditionally in politics you get a bit of leeway and normally in the old days when politicians said somewhat inflammatory stuff the issue was subject to interpretation, and everyone's sort of pretending to themselves that modern Conservatives are still in the club, that the difference is just a bit of intensification, not a difference in category.

But it IS a difference in category. The modern right commits libel all the bloody time. Massively offensive, flat out lies are their stock in trade. People should be suing them every damn time, so they'll either learn to conduct themselves by the rules of our society or have much smaller campaign war chests.

Polls are the main tool of a business trying to stay alive despite repeated discreditation in the real world by capitalizing on the current hysteria of social media, itself driven by basic human FOMO that continues to prop up Twitter/X despite knowing that Musk has gone over to the dark side, AND the tendency of uninformed people to hop on bandwagons rather indiscriminately so as to be on the "winning" side.
With this onslaught I understand why opinion writers who truly get what cons in charge will actually MEAN are themselves jumping to conclusions in an attempt to get out in front of looming catastrophe somehow, but I'd say, perspective please. An election has not even been called and polls are just that, so don't add fuel to the fire, don't take the bait on that, just continue to rise above and expose, even if you're preaching to the converted more all the time.
Mania isn't us at our best but is also naturally self-limiting and unsustainable. I read yesterday for the first time that young people are actually starting to use their phones LESS. And governments are finally starting to zero in on the instigator of the current insanity-- big tech. It's also the ONE thing the right and left agree on, so might be a re-entry point for the far more reasonable old guard.
Crime and punishment is another of the systems at arms length from the government, and deserving of respect on its own, but the fact that the CPC attack dogs keep going after such systems as if they're not only NOT separate, for one, but also automatically ASSUMING they're corrupt or failing somehow anyway is not just shit disturbing for its own sake, it appears to be working politically. But the backdrop of what's happening in the world shines an ever stronger light for our attention, making all this nasty nonsense petty beyond all description. Time isn't on these people's side.
This particular desperate re-run at the prison system/Liberals now falls into the same category as what's going on in the U.K. with Kate's edited family photo. The right wing's stubbornly unevolved tough on crime stance, again already discredited in that most stubborn of all worlds, the REAL one, boils down to the death penalty "debate" that we've already had FFS. These guys/boys are truly grasping at straws now, weariness is spreading that will stand us in good stead when the next election does happen, and remember, like in the States with theirs pending, WOMEN ARE half of the population and are finally losing patience with said boys having the nerve to target them and their uteruses for real.
Speaking of that though, we haven't quite got to the incendiary abortion issue here yet, the CPC's "social conservatives" haven't reached critical mass yet I guess, but women don't like Poilievre anyway, all on his own, so take heart I say.

For the first time in memory a sitting US president stared down and called out the US Supreme Court to their faces in front of tens of millions of witnesses at the state of the union address. Joe Biden looked them in the eye and reiterated they are going to feel the power of women over their decision on Roe v Wade and the recent hot button action by some states to ban IVF. He vowed that, if given a Democratic Congress after the November election, he'll bring back a stronger Roe law. The cameras then focused on the SC justices who were there (one or two of them -- notably Clarence Thomas -- chickened out of attending the address) who, in their robes and cloistered existance, were clearly not used to being criticized in public to their faces, wore stricken looks on their faces. It was priceless, mainly because Biden's speech shocked everyone with its strength.

It's true, moderate Republican women voted against the Republicans in 2020 and 2022 with enough numbers to knock the wobbly wheel out from under the GOP cart. Let's hope that carries through to November. All it takes is marginal numbers to stop the currently weakening MAGA momentum down south.

Let's say Poilievre wins a majority after the next election. The gloating, blaming and mockery of the loser will need to come to an end sometime, and actual governing will have to move to the forefront.

Rage has an early best before date, mainly because it's based on rot to begin with. Try to govern on rage for more than a few weeks, let alone a full four-year term, and the people will eat you alive next election.

Poilievre needs to be continuously challenged proactively on policy right now, not on reactionary comments about his party's rage husbandry.

This article is incomplete without directly quoting the media's response to the jail stunt. Are memories that short, to actually fail to remind people that the Supreme Court knocked down more than one Conservative attempt to maximize prison sentences without regard to the Charter? Harper and the Chief Justice, a woman with great integrity, were in public disagreement over Constitutional authority at the time. Harper lost all of those challenges.

To not bring this up is to foster reactionary, emotional responses to yet another amateur attempt to go rage fishing on old hot button topics. The law will swat it down like a fly every time with or without media's commentary.

Of course, this begs the question about the Conservative's policies on justice. What are they, anyway? Going to a prison to lie about the cushy, luxurious lifestyle it offers is not a policy. Jacking up minimum sentences was quickly quashed by the courts years ago, and is therein not a viable policy today.

Call out Poilievre et al on their intellectual dishonesty and non-existant policies immediately. Challenge them to pony up instead of dishing out.

The more I think about it the more I believe this article should have led to a limited discussion on the Charter and constitutional law and how previous efforts to violate it quickly failed on the very things Conservatives today are trying to pull. Instead, the artcle seems dangerously close to being clickbait by dwelling on the easily defeated negativity.

The one exception is the comment on Norway's justice system, which was discussed years ago in Rutger Bregman's inspiring and optimistic writings.

We send people to prison AS punishment, not FOR punishment.
Prisoners are deprived of their liberty to live and move among us. Any deprivation beyond that suggests a tendency towards sadism.