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Barbed wire seen on an exterior fence at Kingston Penitentiary. The government announced in April that it will close the maximum security facility. (Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail)
Barbed wire seen on an exterior fence at Kingston Penitentiary. The government announced in April that it will close the maximum security facility. (Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail)

What readers think

May 11: Letters to the editor Add to ...

Same-sex politics

I sure do like Barack Obama. The U.S. President is charismatic, balanced and has the courage to stand up for freedom (‘Same-Sex Couples Should Be Able To Get Married’ – May 10). By contrast, our leadership is relentlessly partisan and stands up only to make way for the oil and gas industry.

Thor Kuhlmann, Vancouver

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You have got to be kidding (A Moving Act Of Moral Leadership – editorial, May 10). Does anyone honestly believe that Barack Obama’s opinion on gay marriage has “evolved”? Or was he backed into a corner by the actions of Vice-President Joe Biden who went public with his views on Sunday, so the President had to say this? Defensive positions and political opportunism do not equal moral leadership.

Joseph Shlesinger, Toronto

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You report that Barack Obama’s statement supporting same-sex marriage “carries no implications.” While it is the states that adopt marriage laws, it is U.S. federal law that defines immigration policy and access to social security and federal income tax benefits for married couples.

As an American from Vermont (the first state to legislatively adopt civil unions and same-sex marriage), it was the lack of that recognition and rights for my Canadian same-sex partner that made us choose to build a life in Canada.

Unlike many binational same-sex couples in the U.S., we are quite fortunate – Canada provides a legal pathway for same-sex partners of Canadian citizens to immigrate, find employment, become a citizen and be a family. U.S. couples with one partner from less enlightened countries have faced deportation of the non-American partner, border challenges when they travel and numerous assaults on their legal ability to be a family. Mr. Obama’s support is far more than “political stagecraft” for those of us directly impacted.

Nancy Wasserman, Ottawa

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Eco backstrokes

Some aspects of the Conservatives’ budget bill, such as the effective dismantling of the federal environmental assessment process, were expected. Others, such as the proposed changes to the Fisheries Act, arguably Canada’s most important federal environmental-protection statute, go much further than even critics anticipated. The proposed amendments may represent the most serious retrenchment of federal environmental legislation in Canada’s history (Bill Revamps Ministers’ Environment Role – May 10).

The government’s strategy is almost certain to be self-defeating in the long term, although not without serious short-term costs. Stripping the environmental assessment process of any meaningful content and therefore legitimacy doesn’t mean underlying conflicts over the future of resource development, environmental sustainability and aboriginal and treaty rights will go away.

Nor is it likely to help Canada access export markets for its natural resources. Deep concerns exist in the U.S. and EU about environmental costs associated with Canada’s resource exports. Even China expressed dismay at Canada’s withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol. The federal government’s approach will do nothing but reinforce these concerns.

Mark S. Winfield, associate professor, Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University

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Prisoners’ treatment

I am appalled that the Harper government proposes to claw back money from prisoners who earn a tiny allowance for their work (Tough On Crime Agenda Filling Prisons – May 10). It is Dickensian. Prisoners are generally socially disadvantaged people with isolation, poverty, mental-health and addictions issues. They need to be encouraged through fairness, education, discipline and training to take up positive roles in society. Taking away some of the tiny allowance they earn for prison work will provoke depression, frustration and anger in a population already in deplorable conditions.

Is the real government agenda to demoralize and destabilize prisons so they can be handed over to the private sector?

Maureen Reilly, Toronto

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Canada’s correctional system has the capacity to manage the prisoner population. There has not been a massive influx in inmates. We’ve been able to close two inefficient facilities; the 2,700 new cells previously announced will streamline operations at existing facilities while improving prison infrastructure.

Advocacy groups claim that the offender accountability measures announced by our government are unfair to prisoners and will negatively impact their rehabilitation. We are committed to prisoner rehabilitation. The key components to effective rehabilitation are responsibility and accountability. Law-abiding Canadians pay their way, settle their debts and contribute to their own well-being – we expect prisoners to do the same. The accountability measures will save taxpayers $10-million each year, while teaching prisoners the key principles of responsibility.

Vic Toews, Minister of Public Safety

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Canada’s treatment of female prisoners with mental-health issues is characterized by a lack of appropriate treatment, which leads to institutional adjustment issues and a cycle of use of force, ballooning sentences, segregation and involuntary transfer away from family and community support. These issues are exacerbated when prisons are over capacity and there are additional demands on guards and even less access to mental-health treatment.

Our research indicates that maximum-security at Grand Valley Institution for Women in Ontario is overcrowded and that mentally ill women are asking to be segregated in order to get time alone. If this isn’t indicative of the problem, I don’t know what is.

Renu J. Mandhane, director, International Human Rights Program, Faculty of Law, University of Toronto

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Your article cites overcrowding, double-bunking and some prisoners’ sleeping in gymnasiums, etc., plus a proposed move to make prisoners pay more for room, board and phone calls in the institutions. Am I and other law-abiding members of society supposed to be ashamed and appalled?

Ron LeMee, Toronto

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Ah, Paris

Lawrence Cannon has joined fellow former Harper cabinet minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn with a diplomatic posting in Paris (Harper Rewards Defeated Minister Lawrence Cannon With Paris Post – online, May 10). Defeated Tory candidates may regret losing their election bids – maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but it seems they'll always have Paris.

Ken DeLuca, Arnprior, Ont.

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Just wondering

Small wonder the Toronto Star reporter was not charged with trespassing: He was in a public park adjoining Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s home (No Evidence That Reporter Spied – May 10). But why was Mr. Ford not charged with assault?

According to the reporter, the mayor ran at him with a clenched fist. Unless I am mistaken about what I learned as a first-year law student, that is a criminal assault, even if there was no physical contact.

Richard Brown, Ottawa

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All they are saying

Margaret Wente (The Occupiers Leave The Building – May 10) notes that a small group of protesters dug a garden at Queen’s Park and planted peas. I suspect all they are saying is “give peas a chance.”

Peter Gardiner, Toronto

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