Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Past Deadline: Spinning the Petty Crime

If a petty crime falls in the forest, does anybody report it? Even more importantly, does anybody go to prison for it? And how exactly will we know?

If there is ever another federal election, there should be some nifty spin when it comes time to discuss the long-form census issue, not to mention the criminal nature of statistics or, rather, the statistical nature of crime. It will be interesting to see what sort of stuff Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s control-freak message people come up with.

True to form, the Harper government is letting its hyper-vigilance about privacy and secrecy trump common sense in its decision to make the completion of the long-form census voluntary instead of mandatory. After all, why would you want to have real, valid statistical information that a government could use to make informed policy and program decisions? Why, that might be a way to prevent spending, say, $13 billion on new prisons we might not need, for example.

In HarperWorld™, though, you don’t actually need valid information – that’s just crazy talk. After all, valid information has to come from real people, and those folks (you and me) might not like to be asked personal questions.

This from the government that is known for ducking any forum where there is no guarantee that the message can be controlled by the PMO. In HarperWorld™ made-up information is much preferred because by the time it is verified (or not) the Harperites assume we the people have all dozed off and have forgotten the original issue.

Please oh please, people. Stay awake!

The recent example that had me slapping my forehead in disbelief was the fact that Treasury Board president Stockwell Day, who will probably never shake the wetsuit-wearing image, recently told reporters the federal government needs to spend billions of dollars to build new prisons to lock up people who commit unreported crimes.


See, this is confusing on many levels. First of all, I would have thought the tough-on-crime-Tories would be crowing over the news that crime rates in Canada are dropping but, oh no, they are choosing to focus on a statistic (of all things) that shows the number of unreported crimes is actually increasing.

Don’t be surprised, though, for even in HarperWorld™ a statistic can be useful – as long as it is in restraints.

It was later reported Day’s information came from an honest-to-goodness Statistics Canada survey that showed a slight rise in unreported crimes. Gosh. Those surveys sure are helpful when you need them! A StatsCan analyst went on to say, though, the most common reason people give for not calling police about a crime is that they don’t believe it to be serious enough. You know, stuff like property crimes and petty theft. (Folks tend to snitch about violent crimes.)

The thing is, even if these petty crimes had been reported, they probably wouldn’t have been serious enough to warrant a jail term. Not only that, but we’re talking about building federal prisons here, and to earn yourself a spot in one of those you need to get a sentence of at least two years. Petty crime just isn’t going to cut it.

So, to recap, if we’re not locking up people who aren’t being charged or even if they are being charged but the crimes are petty, why do we need more prison cells?

Well, it’s because suddenly HarperWorld™ needs to come up with some sort of logical argument to defend the expenditure of billions of dollars to expand prisons when crime rates are apparently falling. So there’s lots of spin about imposing longer sentences and stopping the practice of discounted sentences – but it sure makes one wonder what else might be going on.

Not to mention, of course, the irony of HarperWorld™ relying on statistics, of all things, to argue its point. It’s also ironic that if this government were to keep the long-form census mandatory, they might actually need all those new prison cells to house the folks who refuse to fill out the forms. After all, I’m sure we all know someone who has gone to prison for not completing the long-form census.

Or am I being petty?
Published in The Perth Courier, Aug. 12/10

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