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Jeffrey Simpson: a serious talk about crime Add to ...

"There’s a difference between being serious about crime and playing political games with it. And what we have, sadly, is the politics of sloganeering about crime, rather than serious measures," writes Jeffrey Simpson, The Globe and Mail's national affairs columnist, in Wednesday's column.

Mr. Simpson took reader questions about crime, prison and politics at 2 p.m. ET Wednesday. A transcript follows, or scroll to the bottom and read the discussion in its original format.

1:59 [Guy Nicholson]: Hi, I'm Guy Nicholson, an editor with The Globe and Mail's opinions section. We're here today with Jeffrey Simpson to discuss crime, prisons and politics, including his latest column on that subject.

Please start submitting your questions now - we may not get to them all, but will try to answer as many as possible. As we wait for readers to chime in, I'll start with a question for our columnist.

Jeffrey, you say in today's column that the government's "tough on crime" bills will increase Canada's prison population, at considerable cost, without making the country safer. If it's clear that crime is decreasing, why does "tough on crime" rhetoric appear to resonate with so many Canadians?

2:01 [Guest] With these drug laws, there is nothing to address the problem of the market. I can't see that any increase in penalties will do anything to remove the incentive for drug dealing. I note that many Southeast Asian countries, with very harsh penalties for drug crimes (death penalty) are experiencing the highest rates of increase in drug use, including Singapore.

2:01 [Charlie] Yes, I would like to know why the Conservatives are trying to put forth that Bill S-10 will make us safer, when, in fact, it will do the opposite. What I mean is, it will cost us billions?, to what end? Will drug use be deterred? No.

2:02 [Jeffrey Simpson] Guy - for at least three reasons. First, there are pockets of our country where crime is a serious, almost endemic problem. Go to the north end of Winnipeg, parts of east-end Montreal, parts of northwest Toronto, and there are many crimes. So let's not forget that there are pockets of serious crime.

Second, the media is very culpable in creating the impression that crime is more prevalent than it is. People who do television news, with their emphasis on the dramatic and the visual, are drawn irresistibly to crime stories. Even the CBc, which ought to know better, cannot help itself in reporting crime. And newspapers, or elements within them, feast on crime and are given huge spreads to write about this or that criminal event. Third, punishment seems so much more certain to people than prevention that it is politically easy to sell. Simple, simplistic answers to complex problems is apparent everywhere in politics, case in point being crime, so that slogans and fear-mongering replace rational discussion.

2:05 [Charlie] I think people are being misled to beleive that harsher penalties will lessen drug use. But look at Portugal. They decriminalized and their crime rate dropped.

2:07 [Jeffrey Simpson] Charlie: You'll have to ask the Conservatives. The justice department advised against it; the U.S. experience advises against it; a parade of experts in the field of criminology, courts and corrections advised against it. They are proceeding. Ask them, and let me know if you get back a slogan or an answer, the two being quite different in life, if not in politics.

2:09 [Guy Nicholson] This week, on our website, a Globe reader posted: "Whether the crime rate is going up or down is irrelevant to the concept of justice." A question for Jeffrey and/or readers: Is any merit to that argument?

2:10 [Charlie] Bill S-10, which is being purported to target organized crime, will only serve to incarcerate more users at a undisclosed cost. Following the USA's failed War on Drugs is not the way to go.

2:10 [Peter] While you're right crime rates are down, relative to what? Rates of crime are down somewhat, a worldwide drop staring in the 1990s due to demographics, likely, but are still way up from the crime rates of the 1960's--there is much more violent crime in Canada then 30-40-50 years ago. So, the "hug-a-thug" approach having failed, is it not time that people face societal responsibility when they breach society's rules and mores?

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