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Canada joins a rare club of repressive states

The list of oppressive countries legislating the wearing of masks keeps growing: the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and now … Canada.

Rioters in Vancouver

Last month, we reported on Saudi Arabia banning the Guy Fawkes masks popularized by the movie V for Vendetta, which have been a staple of populist protests from Occupy Wall Street to the Arab Spring, and now the Taksim Square protests in Turkey. The Canadian ban is a bit different — but just as strange.

The new law, which takes effect immediately, makes it illegal to wear a mask in Canada “during a riot or unlawful assembly.” (Because apparently Canadian laws against rioting aren’t dissuasive enough?) Those caught wearing masks during riots could spend up to six months in jail, not including additional charges for rioting; masked miscreants caught “inciting” a riot face a potential 10-year sentence. CBC reports that “exceptions can be made if someone can prove they have a ‘lawful excuse’ for covering their face such as religious or medical reasons.”

Does that include dust masks to prevent getting sick at crowded, dirty protests? Balaclavas so protesters don’t freeze on cold Canadian nights? Handkerchiefs to stave off the inhalation of tear gas? Do fake beards, like the one worn by the Canadian student above, count as masks? That’s unclear, and will be left up to law enforcement officers’ judgment. “In policing that’s always the challenge — we’re required to use our discretion and judgment in every situation,” Tom Stamatakis, president of the Canadian Police Association and Vancouver Police Union, told CBC.

Not only are the terms of the new law loosely defined, but the legislation may be redundant. Critics of the bill point out that there is already a Canadian law on the books prohibiting wearing a disguise “with intent to commit an indictable offense.” But Canadian law enforcement officials counter that the law’s original purpose — it was aimed at incidences of armed robbery — have made it difficult to apply to rioters.

“We can all rest easier tonight knowing our communities have been safer with [the bill's] passage,” the law’s sponsor, Member of Parliament Blake Richards, told reporters.

So, if you’re planning on rioting in Canada, remember the old “only break one law at a time” rule and don’t wear a mask. Or hope that the law goes unenforced — like that mask ban in Saudi Arabia.

Even Foreign Policy is making fun of us now.

5 Fun Facts about the NSA’s latest leak

It keeps getting worse

If the NSA intercepts data between an attorney and client, it will still be retained, but will be marked for special handling, such that the portion of the communication related to national security is segregated from the rest of the communication. The procedures apply, however, only when the client is known to be under criminal indictment. The rules do not mention what the NSA does if the clients are communicating with their attorneys on civil cases and other legal matters.

Evil in a Haystack

How do you find a terrorist hidden in millions of gigabytes of metadata?

The information collected includes records of every call placed on the Verizon communications network (and, it appears, every other U.S. phone carrier) including times, dates, lengths of calls, and the phone numbers of the participants, but not the names associated with the accounts.

For some, the collection of these data represent a grave violation of the privacy of American citizens. For others, the privacy issue is negligible, as long as it helps keep us safe from terrorism.

There are indeed privacy issues at play here, but they aren’t necessarily the obvious ones. In order to put the most important questions into context, consider the following illustration of a metadata analysis using sample data derived from a real social network. The sample data isn’t derived from telephone records, but it’s close enough to give a sense of the analysis challenges and privacy issues in play.

While this example is relevant to what happens behind the NSA’s closed doors, it is not in any way intended to be a literal or accurate portrayal. While every effort was made to keep this example close to reality, a wide number of hypotheticals and classified procedures ensure the reality is somewhat different.

We start with a classic scenario. U.S. intelligence officials have captured an al Qaeda operative and obtained the phone number of an al Qaeda fundraiser in Yemen.

You are an analyst for a fictionalized version of the NSA, and you have been authorized to search through metadata in order to expose the fundraiser’s network, armed with only a single phone number as a starting point.

The first step is refreshingly simple: You type the fundraiser’s phone number into the metadata analysis software and click OK.

In our example data, the result is a list of 79 phone numbers that were involved in an incoming or outgoing call with the fundraiser’s phone within the last 30 days. The fundraiser is a covert operator and this phone is dedicated to covert activities, so almost anyone who calls the number is a high-value target right out of the gate.

Using the metadata, we can weight each phone number according to the number of calls it was involved in, the lengths of the calls, the location of the other participant, and the time of day the call was placed. Your NSA training manual claims these qualities help indicate the threat level of each participant. Your workstation renders these data as a graph. Each dot represents a phone number, and the size of the dot is bigger when the number scores higher on the “threat” calculus.

This is already a significant intelligence windfall, and you’ve barely been at this for five minutes. But you can go back to the metadata and query which of these 79 people have been talking to each other in addition to talking to the fundraiser.

Foreign Policy asks some hard questions about we use that data.

1. How much contact can an analyst have with a U.S. person’s data before it becomes a troublesome violation of privacy? Is it a violation to load a phone record into a graph if the analyst never looks at it individually? Is it a violation to look at the number individually if you don’t associate a name? Is it a violation to associate a name if you never take any additional investigative steps?

2. Metadata analysis is more accurate when the data is more complete. Should minimization practices filter metadata on American citizens out of the analysis altogether? What if that means targeting might be less accurate and, ironically, more likely to designate innocent people for more intrusive scrutiny?

3. What percentage of phone traffic to targeted numbers travels only on foreign carriers? Does the absence of those data skew analysis and possibly overemphasize the scoring of phone numbers used by American citizens?

4. On a fundamental level, are we willing to trust mathematical formulas and behavioral models to decide who should receive intrusive scrutiny?

5. Metadata analysis rarely deals in certainties; it almost always produces probabilities. What probability of evil intent should these models demonstrate before the government uses them to help justify a phone tap, or a house search, or a drone strike? 90 percent? 60 percent? Should we allow incremental collection of slightly more intrusive data if they can clarify a marginal case?

6. Have we tested our analytical math to see how accurate its predictions are relative to the actual content of calls? If so, how were these tests done? If not, are we willing to trust these models based on their success in other fields, or do they need to be tested specifically for counterterrorism?

7. If we believe the models do need to be tested for accuracy, are we willing to endure the privacy violations such tests would almost certainly entail? Will more accurate models lead to better privacy in the long run by reducing the number of innocent people subjected to more intrusive scrutiny?

8. Are we willing to trust the government to hold this data? Although the government says this data is currently focused on foreign counterterrorism, do we believe the president might not order the NSA to access metadata in the wake of a terrorist attack of domestic origin?

9. On a related note, what happens if the origin of an attack isn’t immediately clear, as in the Boston Marathon bombing? Should the NSA immediately begin a broad analysis of metadata and continue until it’s clear where the responsibility lies?

10. If we were to allow the use of this technology in domestic terrorism investigations, during a crisis or otherwise, how do we avoid collecting information on legal political dissent? For instance, targeting anarchists might inadvertently produce a list of influential leaders in the Occupy movement. Targeting militia groups might create a database of gun sellers. When you plunge into a huge dataset, you sometimes get insights you didn’t expect.

Ugh.

Corbella: Allowing brothels will make things worse for prostitutes

Lisa Corbella in the Calgary Herald

On Sept. 28, 2010, Ontario Superior Court Justice Susan Himel struck down three sections of Canada’s prostitution laws because they exposed sex-trade workers to unreasonable risk.

Himel ruled that communicating for the purposes of prostitution, living on the avails of prostitution and keeping a common bawdy house force sex-trade workers from the safety of their homes and onto the streets, where they are more vulnerable to violence.

The Criminal Code provisions, wrote Himel in her 131-page ruling, “force prostitutes to choose between their liberty interest and their security of the person as protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

Himel’s ruling was upheld by the Ontario Court of Appeal. The Supreme Court is the end of the line in terms of ensuring that these Criminal Code provisions are not discarded — thus legalizing brothels, pimping and potentially even the bold kind of soliciting made so infamous in Amsterdam’s red-light district.

Natasha Falle, who calls herself a sex-trade survivor, says “women like me don’t think the way to protect women is behind legislated doors.”

Speaking at Servants Anonymous’ Cry of the Streets — Evening of Freedom fundraising event May 30 in Calgary, Falle says more women will be enslaved by human traffickers if those laws are deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

Looking much younger than her 40 years, Falle is the founder of Sextrade 101 — a public awareness organization and an instructor of police foundations at Humber College in Toronto.

She intends to show up at the Supreme Court next week holding a “pimp stick” — an unravelled coat hanger that her pimp would often heat up on the stove and then use to whip her. Other former sex trade survivors will show up with other torture tools commonly used by pimps, such as curling irons and belts.

The daughter of a former Calgary police officer who, ironically, worked in the vice department, and a mother who worked in a bridal salon, Falle says she turned her first trick in Calgary’s Chinatown when she was 14 with a man with rotten teeth.

Her parents had split up and her family life fell apart. Falle started sleeping on friends’ couches until she wound up on the sofa of four young prostitutes whose pimp was out of town. Pretty soon, Falle followed their lead. At least they had a place to live and food to eat.

“I was trafficked across the country by the man who recruited me and who made false white-picket-fence intimacy promises,” Falle told the crowd.

“I made a lot of money. I bought my pimp a Mercedes. I had a Mustang, we lived in a penthouse, but I was still subjected to all of the violence,” she said. “He broke my arms, my ribs; my nose has been broken three times.”

Her point? This happened indoors. Not on the streets. The former prostitute says the worst beating she ever got was in a common bawdy house she shared with four other teens, so the idea that there’s safety in numbers is a myth.

Falle asks Canadians to consider what will happen to young women and girls should those prostitution laws be ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

Prostitution will become a licensed business, pimps will be legitimate business people, billboards advertising brothels could start appearing on roadsides and “a brothel could open up in the apartment next to yours or in the house next to yours,” Falle says.

While prostitution is legal in Canada, running a bawdy house, living off of the avails and soliciting for the purposes of prostitution are not.

“If we legalize these three areas, will brothels be allowed to set up a booth at the high school job fair?” she asks.

Just last month, two men were arrested in the Toronto area after recruiting a teenage Windsor girl to work in a strip club. They then took her to Toronto, where they forced her to prostitute herself.

“I think many well-meaning Canadians support Bedford’s challenge against Canada’s prostitution laws because they believe it will help vulnerable women,” Falle says. “But they are mistaken. It will make things much worse. It will legitimize pimping and human trafficking. It will enslave more women and girls.”

Corbella is right.  All of the serious research that is out there shows that brothels are violent, violent places where women suffer and are exploited even in places like Nevada where they are illegal.  This does not help women, it exploits them even more.

Photos from the Boston Manhunt

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The entire set can be seen at Boston Globe’s The Big Picture

On the Take

All but three of the 45 senators who voted against gun control measures received donations from the NRA and other pro-gun groups.

All but three of the 45 senators who torpedoed gun control measures in Congress on Wednesday have received money from firearms lobbyists, according to new analysis by the Guardian and the Sunlight Foundation.

Some, such as Indiana Republican Dan Coats, registered donations from pro-shooting groups as recently as three weeks ago, when the proposal to extend background checks was still seen as likely to pass.

President Obama and congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who survived a gun attack, have both accused the Senate of being in thrall to gun money following Wednesday’s vote. “They worried that the gun lobby would spend a lot of money and paint them as anti-second amendment,” said Obama.

Yet campaign disclosures show the group were also direct recipients of gun cash. The National Rifle Association alone has given $800,000 to 40 of the senators who voted against the amendment since 1990, much of it in the run-up to the last election, according to Sunlight Foundation figures.

Information for the period since the Newtown school shooting is harder to come by because many quarterly filings due out on Tuesday have been delayed by the suspected ricin attack on members of Congress.

But Guardian analysis of the data available so far for 2013 reveals that some groups have continued to be active outside the election cycle – including Safari Club International, a pro-hunting organisation which gave $1,000 to Senator Coats on 29 March, according to the filings.

Documents also show the NRA saw a surge in donations to its lobbying arm in the months following Newtown – registering a record $2.7m in cash during January and February. Further disclosures showing the scale of its recent donations, particularly to politicians in the House of Representatives, are expected on Saturday.

The Gun Owners of America and National Association for Gun Rights – two groups seen as more conservative than the NRA – have also been active in the Senate, giving $9,000 and $5,000 respectively to Ted Cruz, one of the leaders of Republican opposition to the amendment.

Gabby Giffords has this commentary

Senators say they fear the N.R.A. and the gun lobby. But I think that fear must be nothing compared to the fear the first graders in Sandy Hook Elementary School felt as their lives ended in a hail of bullets. The fear that those children who survived the massacre must feel every time they remember their teachers stacking them into closets and bathrooms, whispering that they loved them, so that love would be the last thing the students heard if the gunman found them.

On Wednesday, a minority of senators gave into fear and blocked common-sense legislation that would have made it harder for criminals and people with dangerous mental illnesses to get hold of deadly firearms — a bill that could prevent future tragedies like those in Newtown, Conn., Aurora, Colo., Blacksburg, Va., and too many communities to count.

Some of the senators who voted against the background-check amendments have met with grieving parents whose children were murdered at Sandy Hook, in Newtown. Some of the senators who voted no have also looked into my eyes as I talked about my experience being shot in the head at point-blank range in suburban Tucson two years ago, and expressed sympathy for the 18 other people shot besides me, 6 of whom died. These senators have heard from their constituents — who polls show overwhelmingly favored expanding background checks. And still these senators decided to do nothing. Shame on them.

I watch TV and read the papers like everyone else. We know what we’re going to hear: vague platitudes like “tough vote” and “complicated issue.” I was elected six times to represent southern Arizona, in the State Legislature and then in Congress. I know what a complicated issue is; I know what it feels like to take a tough vote. This was neither. These senators made their decision based on political fear and on cold calculations about the money of special interests like the National Rifle Association, which in the last election cycle spent around $25 million on contributions, lobbying and outside spending.

Speaking is physically difficult for me. But my feelings are clear: I’m furious. I will not rest until we have righted the wrong these senators have done, and until we have changed our laws so we can look parents in the face and say: We are trying to keep your children safe. We cannot allow the status quo — desperately protected by the gun lobby so that they can make more money by spreading fear and misinformation — to go on.

I am asking every reasonable American to help me tell the truth about the cowardice these senators demonstrated. I am asking for mothers to stop these lawmakers at the grocery store and tell them: You’ve lost my vote. I am asking activists to unsubscribe from these senators’ e-mail lists and to stop giving them money. I’m asking citizens to go to their offices and say: You’ve disappointed me, and there will be consequences.

Remains from 9/11 are still sitting under a tarp on Staten Island

What in the world?

On the phone were Monica Gabrielle and Kristen Breitweiser. Their husbands died at the World Trade Center in the Sept. 11 attack. This week, a new effort to find remains from the site uncovered 39 pieces of what appeared to be human bones. That was the yield from the first three days of work in a process that is expected to go on for at least two months.

It turns out that 60 dump trucks’ worth of soil from the trade center site, identified as long as two and half years ago as possibly holding human remains, has been sitting untouched beneath a tarp on Staten Island. The startling possibility exists that the remains of a large number of people could be found and identified in the months ahead, nearly 12 years after the attack.

“We are not stupid,” Monica Gabrielle said, in classic understatement. “We wouldn’t be surprised if they are finding shards and tiny pieces down there 50 years from now.”

Ms. Breitweiser jumped in. “But if they found some of this stuff two years ago,” she asked, “what is the explanation for why it is sitting so long?”

Neither woman was in a hurry to make demands for attention from a public for whom Sept. 11 is an episode of faded power. Yet their relentlessness over the last 12 years has served major civic purposes that would otherwise not have been met.

See No Evil: The Case of Alfred Anaya

A fascinating article about a compartment maker who was sentenced 24 years in jail.

On November 18, as Anaya drove his Ford F-350 through a Home Depot parking lot, he noticed a dark sedan that seemed to be shadowing him in an adjacent aisle. He thought the car might belong to friends. But when the sedan stopped in front of him, the men who got out were strangers to Anaya. They identified themselves as DEA agents and ordered him out of his truck. “You know why we’re here,” one agent said to Anaya, who was bewildered to be in handcuffs for the first time in his life. “Your compartments.”

The agents took Anaya to the DEA’s office in downtown Los Angeles, where they questioned him at length. Anaya spoke freely about his traps, estimating that he had built 15 over the past year. He even boasted about his perfectionism, stressing that he was always careful to conceal his wire harnesses.

The agents told Anaya that he could avoid any potential legal complications by doing them a big favor: They wanted him to outfit his clients’ cars with GPS trackers and miniature cameras, so the DEA could build cases against suspected traffickers. They told him to take a few days to mull over the offer, then they released him from custody.

The next day, a dazed Anaya drove to his father’s grave to meditate on the choice before him. The epiphany he had while kneeling by the headstone wasn’t comforting. “I had a feeling that no matter what decision I made, something bad was going to happen,” Anaya says. “But I couldn’t do anything that would put my family in danger.” And while he felt he could handle jail time, he worried that any trafficker big enough to interest the DEA would have no compunctions about killing his children, nieces, and nephews. That made the decision clear.

It’s an interesting read about technology, ethics of the DEA (go to jail or have you and your family killed), and about a guy who was either clueless or a drug conspirator (you decide… I think he was both).  Best thing I read this week by far.

Moscow execs hire ambulances to beat the traffic

Not sure if I am appalled or am thinking of a new business opportunity

Police in Moscow are to carry out checks on ambulances after reports that emergency vehicles have been fitted with plush interiors and are being rented out to VIP commuters hoping to dodge the city’s appalling traffic jams.

They face random checks after companies advertising rides in “ambulance-taxis” for upwards of 6000 roubles ($185) an hour appeared on the internet.

The vehicles are said to use their sirens to scatter traffic and deliver harried businessman to meetings on time.

A law enforcement source told Izvestiya that one such vehicle had already been identified. “During a patrol, a medical car was stopped because it was breaking traffic rules,” the source said.

“The driver appeared strange, and did not resemble an ambulance driver at all.

“Police officers opened the automobile to check it and saw that the interior was fitted out like a high-class limousine with comfortable seats for transporting VIP passengers.”

Inside the ambulance were “not medical personnel but some people in civilian clothes who refused to identify themselves”, the source said.

Moscow’s boulevards and ring roads are often at a standstill because of badly parked cars and a lack of restrictions on driving in the city centre.

3 Women a Day Killed by a Partner in South Africa

As the AP reports

Reeva Steenkamp, the model and law graduate shot and killed by Oscar Pistorius, was statistically just one of three women killed on Valentine’s Day by an intimate partner, according to a study on violence against women that damns South Africa as having “the highest rate ever reported in research anywhere in the world.”

It’s more than just murder

Newspaper editorials and talk radio shows are examining traditional chauvinistic attitudes, gun control laws and weaknesses in the police and court systems that allow many perpetrators to walk free — thus discouraging women from reporting. This week police disclosed that they do not have enough rape kits, needed to collect evidence.

“Of all the matrics (high school graduates) in your class, one third have been raped!” says a public education announcement on Talk Radio 702, referring to statistics that estimate more than 30 percent of girls have been raped by the time they are 18.

It seems there are few places for South African girls to be safe: Many are raped in their homes by a relative or family friend; many are raped at school, often by teachers; only a quarter are raped by someone they do not know.

In South Africa, statistics say someone gets raped every four minutes. Only 66,196 incidents were reported to police last year and their investigations led to only 4,500 convictions.

“If data for all violent assaults, rapes and other sexual assaults against women are taken into account, then approximately 200,000 adult women are reported as being attacked in South Africa every year,” Lerato Moloi of the South African Institute for Race Relations said. The real figure is considerably higher, she said, since most cases never are reported.

The rate of murders of women in South Africa is equally troubling.

A woman is killed by an intimate partner every eight hours in South Africa, a probable underestimate because no perpetrator is identified in 20 percent of killings, according to a study published in August and co-authored by Professor Rachel Jewkes of the South African Medical Research Council. That is double the rate of such murders in the United States, according to the report. The study was based on a sample of deceased females aged 14 years and older at national mortuaries, since police statistics do not separate the killings of women by partners from those by strangers.

In a related story, Mother Jones points out that gun ownership puts women at a greater risk

  • In 2010, nearly 6 times more women were shot by husbands, boyfriends, and ex-partners than murdered by male strangers.
  • A woman’s chances of being killed by her abuser increase more than 7 times if he has access to a gun.
  •  One study found that women in states with higher gun ownership rates were 4.9 times more likely to be murdered by a gun than women in states with lower gun ownership rates.

Hunt for unknown sexual predator took Toronto police 22 months

In March 2011, Det. Paul Krawczyk began an online hunt that would last 22 months. It would end as one of the worst cases he’s ever investigated, culminating in the arrest of beloved Saint John city Councillor Donnie Snook.

Donnie Snook was as close to sainthood as it got in Saint John.

Sitting on city council for two consecutive terms, the 41-year-old former Salvation Army officer championed the razing of derelict buildings, helped drive biker gangs out of town and fed warm lunches to children through a Christian youth ministry.

“He was the soldier for the marginalized,” said former city councillor Patty Higgins.

But that image was shattered this January after a Toronto police officer sitting in a dark, windowless room 1,500 kilometres away spent 22 months tracking an unknown predator online.

Snook is now facing three counts of sexual touching related to one child, whose identity is protected by a court-ordered publication ban, dating back to December 2006. He is also charged with one count of making child pornography related to the same child and two counts each of possessing and distributing child pornography between March 2011 and January 2013.

None of the allegations against Snook has been proven in court. He has resigned his council seat and is suspended with pay from his position as executive director of the Inner City

Youth Ministry. His defence lawyer, Dennis Boyle, refused to comment when contacted by the Star.

In what may soon be one of the largest cases of alleged child abuse in recent Canadian memory, the Star has learned that since Snook’s arrest as many as 20 children and their families have come forward with allegations and further charges are pending, according to multiple sources.

A physics professor and the bikini model

Paul Frampton is a 69-year-old theoretical particle physicist who has co-authored papers with Nobel laureates. In late 2011, the absentminded professor met a Czech bikini model online. Over email and Yahoo chat, they became romantically involved and she sent him a plane ticket to come meet her at a photo shoot in Bolivia. Then she asked him to bring a bag of hers with him on his flight  The entire story is crazy.  

She looked down and cried

Mark Cherrington writes this about a teen girl he was assigned as a court worker

As a youth court worker, it has never been the high profile cases, pews filled with press and families, but more often the silence that have impacted me dearly.

Last Thursday, Parminder Johal, a lawyer with the Youth Criminal Defence Office asked me to see an eighteen year old girl in custody for breaching her probation. The girl had a minor record and was being held in custody for a warrant going back years. Her crime: Not completing an apology letter and forty hours of community service hours. A Summary Offence, she should not have been held in jail under the Youth Criminal Justice Act. I entered the interview room: a small cubicle with metal tables, a phone and wall of Plexiglas. When she entered; a petite Aboriginal girl, I could see her face was swollen, yellow and black, looking like old fruit. She threw a nervous smile and was missing a tooth. I introduced myself, “I’m here to help you and provide…”

“I’ve been raped,” she interrupted. Her lips quivered, eyes welled up, and finally she just looked down and cried.

I waited a few minutes. “Perhaps,” I finally said, “somebody else…”

She shook her head and wiped her cheeks with her sleeve. “But you said you’re here to help me? Somebody has to listen? Don’t they?”

A lot of people should have been listening!

She told me she had been at a motel room with some friends. There were drinks, “But I didn’t drink much! I think my drink was spiked,” she added and waking up, bruised, bleeding from her vagina, called her mother frantic, who called the Edmonton City Police Service . As first responders, her expectations as a victim of sexual assault were different than what transpired. The Officer/s ran her name, found she had an old warrant and arrested her.

According to the girl, the only acknowledgement by the police about being raped, was once released she could attend any police station and fill out a statement.

It gets worse you read the entire post.

Lessig on Aaron Swartz

Powerful read by Larry Lessig in the prosecutor’s role in Aaron Swartz’s suicide

No doubt it is a certain crazy that brings a person as loved as Aaron was loved (and he was surrounded in NY by people who loved him) to do what Aaron did. It angers me that he did what he did. But if we’re going to learn from this, we can’t let slide what brought him here.

First, of course, Aaron brought Aaron here. As I said when I wrote about the case (when obligations required I say something publicly), if what the government alleged was true — and I say “if” because I am not revealing what Aaron said to me then — then what he did was wrong. And if not legally wrong, then at least morally wrong. The causes that Aaron fought for are my causes too. But as much as I respect those who disagree with me about this, these means are not mine.

But all this shows is that if the government proved its case, some punishment was appropriate. So what was that appropriate punishment? Was Aaron a terrorist? Or a cracker trying to profit from stolen goods? Or was this something completely different?

Early on, and to its great credit, JSTOR figured “appropriate” out: They declined to pursue their own action against Aaron, and they asked the government to drop its. MIT, to its great shame, was not as clear, and so the prosecutor had the excuse he needed to continue his war against the “criminal” who we who loved him knew as Aaron.

Here is where we need a better sense of justice, and shame. For the outrageousness in this story is not just Aaron. It is also the absurdity of the prosecutor’s behavior. From the beginning, the government worked as hard as it could to characterize what Aaron did in the most extreme and absurd way. The “property” Aaron had “stolen,” we were told, was worth “millions of dollars” — with the hint, and then the suggestion, that his aim must have been to profit from his crime. But anyone who says that there is money to be made in a stash of ACADEMIC ARTICLES is either an idiot or a liar. It was clear what this was not, yet our government continued to push as if it had caught the 9/11 terrorists red-handed.

 

Column: Double Bunking Doesn’t Work

This week’s column in The StarPhoenix

Last week the Internet news site iPolitics reported that Iwan Zinger, the executive director of the Office of Correctional Investigations, raised a series of concerns about the double bunking of federal offenders in federal penitentiaries.

Since June 2010, inmates being held in segregation in Manitoba’s Stoney Mountain Penitentiary have been double bunked despite being confined to their cells for 23 hours a day.

In a related story, iPolitics reported that in Prince Albert inmates are being double bunked in a prison cell that is less than five-square metres.

It’s been a long-standing practice with Correctional Services to avoid double bunking. Zinger pointed out in a memo he wrote to correctional officials that Canada has long endorsed the United National Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, which calls for one inmate per prison cell.

Correctional Service responded to the letter with concern, but double bunking has been on the increase for the last couple of years anyway. As far back as August 2010, CSC has posted policy notes on its website that loosen the rules for double bunking.

For the foreseeable future, however, the policy seems to be here to stay. There is an increasing number of inmates being double bunked in cells designed for a single person. Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has indicated he is content with double bunking in spite of the 1,700 new cells being added to the system.

Western Canada sees the highest rate of double bunking, at about one in five inmates. As can be expected, the increased crowding leads to other problems.

In prison, it leads to a higher rate of violence and public-health problems such as the spread of infectious diseases. It also makes rehabilitation more difficult as we are housing inmates in unsafe prisons that are not designed to hold that many people.

While it may be physically possible to hold a higher number of prisoners they eventually get released, and that’s when the real problems start.

The American practice of building supermax prisons generated a lot of attention when they were opened. They were super secure for the system’s most dangerous criminals. As the reinvention of places like Alcatraz, they held prisoners such as the notorious mob boss John Gotti.

They did an amazing job of segregating inmates and stopping violence. Their failure was that some who were housed there were not given life sentences and like most offenders in Canada, they were eventually released. Authorities found that many were worse off when they were released, however, than when they were convicted.

I am all in favour of tougher prison sentences for some crimes. It takes a long time to change behaviours and be taught the new skills that can break the crime cycle. It’s staff intensive and costs money but at the same time not doing it costs a lot more in both crime and more incarceration.

Many who return to California’s famous San Quentin are arrested before they have the chance to spend the $100 bill that they are given when they are released. Released in the morning and returned later that day. Each of those crimes has a victim and of course the cost of even more incarceration. It’s in all of our best interests to get this right.

That isn’t happening now. The Conservatives have totally forgotten the “corrections” part of their crime bill in a haste of locking everyone up. While they may be correct that we need longer sentences and have more people incarcerated, locking people up without the cells to safely house them and the space to turn their lives around is a recipe for more crime and even longer sentences.

Studies have shown that for most criminals, prison isn’t a deterrent. The evidence would suggest that in most western countries, it’s not the jail time that stops people from committing crimes – most are very aware of the consequences before they do the crime.

Many can’t get by in the world without breaking the law and that is why they do it. Some are violent people who must be locked up for a long time, but most need to be taught the skills to live without crime. Treating our prisons as warehouses for criminals doesn’t do that.

While it may feel good to be tough on crime, we must break the crime cycle and that doesn’t happen in over-crowded and violent prisons.

It’s hard to care for criminals but for many, prison must be where they can change their lives. Warehousing them in small cells isn’t going to accomplish that. Best practices have to win out over Conservative ideology and politics.

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