Shooting response shows Tories have opposition cowed on crime

OTTAWA — The Globe and Mail

Police investigate a fatal shooting at Toronto's Eaton Centre on June 3, 2012. (Brett Gundlock for The Globe and Mail)

Six and a half years ago, the Boxing Day shooting of Jane Creba near Toronto’s Eaton Centre sent Paul Martin’s re-election campaign into a downward spiral from which it never recovered.

That may be why the opposition parties appeared to be going to such lengths to avoid any mention of Saturday’s fatal shooting at the Eaton Centre food court – proving, once again, that the criminal is political.

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The Conservatives displayed no such reticence. Julian Fantino, the Associate Defence Minister and former head of the Toronto and Ontario police forces, declared that the attacks demonstrated the tougher sentencing provisions of Tory crime legislation were needed.

“If all else fails, the only thing we have left is the criminal justice system,” he said Monday on CTV. “We need to find ways to isolate law abiding, decent citizens from those who actively seek to victimize and continue their life of crime,” he said. “And jail is the answer, I’m afraid, if all else fails.”

Opposition parties, in contrast, chose to stay amazingly silent. Neither Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair nor Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae issued any statement in response to the shootings, unlike Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who called the attacks “depraved and monstrous.”

In the House of Commons, no one asked the government a question related to the shooting. Andrew Cash offered his condolences in a statement on behalf of the NDP, and that was that.

Mr. Rae might have avoided mentioning the matter entirely, had a reporter not asked him about it outside the House.

“The real issue in crime is crime prevention,” he responded. “… But, you know, I’m a little tired of people who try to take political advantage of a tragic event. I have no intention of doing that.”

While Mr. Rae’s restraint could have been seen as commendable, he might also have been thinking of the price Paul Martin paid when Jane Creba was killed and six others wounded in the midst of the 2005-06 election campaign.

During that campaign, Mr. Harper had been attacking the Martin government for failing to crack down on crime. Mr. Martin played into the Conservative Leader’s hand when he said of the shootings: “I think, more than anything else, they demonstrate what are, in fact, the consequences of exclusion.”

Voters did not want to be told that society was responsible for Jane Creba’s death. They knew exactly who was responsible, and they wanted them locked away.

The Liberal response to the shooting – combined with the RCMP announcement of what turned out to be a spurious allegation of influence-peddling in Ralph Goodale’s Finance department – proved to be politically calamitous.

Opposition politicians could, if they chose, use the Eaton Centre shooting to call for a complete ban on all handguns, which the Tories oppose. They could accuse the Conservatives of cutting funding to anti-gang programs, or of fomenting overcrowded jails – thanks to their crime legislation – that will serve as incubators for future violent offenders.

Instead, they left well enough alone. When it comes to crime and punishment, the Tories appear to have the other side thoroughly cowed.