A crowd of about 100 people turned out in Kelowna Wednesday night to voice their opposition to the federal government’s omnibus crime bill.
But it was not just the Conservative’s plan to get tough on crime that came in for criticism. Kelowna-Lake Country Tory MP Ron Cannan — a conspicuous no-show— was also targeted by the clearly anti-crime bill crowd.
Several audience members expressed anger that Cannan refused to show up to defend the government’s plan, a bill that combines nine previously unsuccessful separate crime-related bills into one. The Tories could not get them passed through the House of Commons because it did not have a majority.
“Where is Ron Cannan?” demanded one woman. “He is paid by us (taxpayers). Why is he not here?”
Organizers said they invited Cannan but he refused to participate, saying the issue was now in the hands of the Senate following approval by a majority of MPs.
But one of the speakers, Islam Mohammed, president of the federal Liberal riding association Kelowna-Lake Country, said putting pressure on the local MP would do no good.
“Nothing we can say will get him to vote against his party, spark out against his party or ask a hard question,” said Mohammed,
He said targeting Cannan with protests against the bill would be “a wasted effort.”
“He’s not an opinion leader,” said Mohammed. “His opinions are directed (by the Prime Minister’s Office). He is just following his leader.”
Gilbert Hobart, who said he got the idea to hold the public meeting after talking to Cannan and expressing his concern about the inclusion of mandatory minimum sentences, said organizers tried to get someone else to speak in support of the proposed legislation but Okanagan-Coquihalla MP Dan Albas and local RCMP Supt. Bill McKinnon declined to participate.
The audience heard from representatives of the federal Liberals, Greens, and NDP , as well as the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, the John Howard Society and an academic, all of whom said the bills are being driven by political ideology, no proof backed up by academic research that the measure work.
In fact, according to the speakers, similar moves in the U.S are now being repealed because they have been found ineffective.
“Even the folks in Texas are saying ‘slow down partner,'” said Mohammed.
Michael Vonn, a lawyer with the B.C. Civil Liberties Association said the new bill, which would impose more use of mandatory minimum sentences, make pardons harder to get and more expensive, treat someone convicted of a minor crime much more harshly and result in more prisons being built, said it will tie judges hands and thwart the aim of the justice system which is to have consider individual cases based on the evidence and circumstance related to those individual cases.
“A cookie-cutter approach does not work,” she said.
Other concerns expressed included the the impact the new measure will haveon on aboriginal people charged with crimes, as well as others with mental illness, drug and alcohol addictions and the homeless.
“What we need to do is look at the underlying causes of crime,” said Shelley Cook of the John Howard Society.
Julia Shaw, a PHD student who has written extensively about, and researched the issue of, crime and punishment, said currently there is no academic research to support the direction the Conservative government is going.
The audience was urged to contact senators, especially those from Quebec, because that province has been vocal in opposing the crime bill.
Hobart said he hopes Wednesday’s meeting will start an education campaign about the bill and help locals speak out against it.