Prime Minister Stephen Harper is not only a micromanager but a micromanager with an obsession - crime (as if crime were endemic in Canada when, in fact, it's diminishing because the population is growing older).
A prime minister should have more serious matters on his mind than a former hockey coach's obtaining a pardon for sexually abusing two teenagers after having paid his dues to society and whose reputation is already in tatters. But Mr. Harper couldn't resist exploiting the fear of pedophilia - it's an issue that always works well with voters. As soon as the story about Graham James's 2007 pardon hit the headlines last week, Mr. Harper let it be known that he intends to table a bill that would force the National Parole Board to limit the pardoning of certain categories of sexual or violent offenders.
Such a knee-jerk reaction over a single, highly emotional case is the worst way of implementing legislation. The Criminal Records Act shouldn't be tampered with for political gain.
Mr. James, who had been convicted of sexual assault in 1997 and sentenced to three and a half years in prison, was quietly pardoned three years ago. As a convicted pedophile, he can't work in a job that involves contact with children. He's been out of jail for a decade and hasn't reoffended. So what's the problem? Should sexual offenders be kept in jail forever? Should they be prevented from working or getting on with their lives? Should they just be thrown to a lynch mob?
Some say non-violent pedophiles are impossible to rehabilitate. Not true, replies psychiatrist Benoit Dassylva, who has diagnosed and treated hundreds of sex offenders at the Philippe-Pinel Institute in Montreal. In a recent interview with The Globe and Mail, he said that most pedophiles don't reoffend but that, like alcoholics, they may be "vulnerable" in certain situations (which is why people convicted of sexually abusing minors are prohibited from working with children). Dr. Dassylva also pointed out that most cases of abuse involve friends or family members.
Unfortunately, the Harper government doesn't seem to believe in rehabilitation. One of Mr. Harper's latest Senate recruits from Quebec is precisely the kind of man who thinks that rehabilitation, as he once wrote, is a "phantasm." Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu, a former civil servant and a well-known victims' rights advocate, will forcefully push for any overly punitive anti-crime measure, including the one Mr. Harper now has in mind.
Mr. Boisvenu founded the Murdered or Missing Persons' Families' Association after his daughter Julie was abducted, raped and killed in 2002 by a man who was on parole. Three years after Julie's murder, his other daughter, Isabelle, who was working with him at the victims' rights group, was killed when she lost control of her car. This terrible combination of tragedies helped raise Mr. Boisvenu's profile and, since he has a knack for promoting his cause in the media, he soon became a popular, albeit controversial, personality.
Mr. Boisvenu fits perfectly with Mr. Harper's agenda on crime. Last May, in an open letter to newspapers, he accused the legal system of being slanted against victims and being too soft on criminals. He's settling his score with the men on parole, one of whom murdered his daughter - never mind that most people on parole don't reoffend.