Sunday, 29 August 2010

Long on rhetoric, short on science

There are, at least in my mind, two important political issues going on right now where emotions are being used to argue the case. Worse, there seems to be a deliberate attempt to keep science out of the picture.

Firstly, there is the Quixotic "Scrap the long-gun registry" windmill.
Fact: it did cost a billion dollars to implement over a decade.
Fact: it now costs between $1.1 million and $3.6 million per year.
Opponents still call it "a billion dollar boondoggle."
Fact: as a result of overwhelming evidence presented in public hearings the House of Commons Public Safety and National Security Committee passed a motion to recommend to parliament not to do away with the registry.
Fact: the RCMP held an independent audit of the effectiveness of the long-gun registry.
Fact: the Government refuses to release the audit report and its results.
Rumour (unsubstantiated but persistent): the report proves that the registry is effective and efficient.
Fact: 427 out of 430 police chiefs believe it is valueable for law enforcement and public safety (if Antonia Zerbisias has her facts right in the Sunday Toronto Star.)

The anti-registry group seems to consist mainly of hunters, gun collectors and the Conservative government. Today's Toronto Star quotes Greg Farrant of the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters as saying, "We should not have a registry of individuals in this country who are allowed to own firearms; we should have a registry of those individuals too dangerous to own firearms." To this Toronto police chief Bill Blair responded, "I don't tell hunters how to hunt. I'm not sure why hunters want to tell the police what we need or don't need to do our jobs."

As a Canadian and a voter, all I ask for are the facts and figures. Let's have the audit reports and results, please, so that we can all make informed decisions. Cut the crap out of scrap.

Secondly, we have the even bigger Quixotic windmill, "We need more and bigger prisons." This is according to Stockwell Day who told us a couple of weeks ago that statistics which show that crime in Canada is on the decrease are wrong because the number of unreported crimes is actually increasing. He did tell us how he knows there is unreported crime but he did not tell us how he knows it is increasing. He also did not tell us how we were going to catch the criminals who commit unreported crimes.

Daniel Baird has a great article in today's Toronto Star covering some wonderful and effective work being done by Rev. Harry Nigh, a chaplain for Correctional Services, Canada, with a program called Dismas. The purpose of Dismas is to provide a community where ex-prisoners can find support to try and make it in a society not willing to trust ex-cons. This lack of trust makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to find employment, accomodation, and friends who will not lead you back into a life of crime.

A key point of Baird's is that one consequence of having more prisoners is that, eventually, you have more prisoners being released who will need all the services that are presently poorly and under-supplied to today's prison population. This oversight is so typical of what happens when governments, or anyone for that matter, don't use full-cost accounting. We presume that the cost of petrol/gasoline is what you pay at the pump, or that the cost of plastic shopping bags is what the supermarket pays its supplier, or that the cost of generating electrical power is the charge to the end user, and ignore the cost of creating greenhouse gasses and the health costs, or the cost of disposal after use. The worst offender here is the "cost" of nuclear power generation. It only includes short term disposal costs in the calculations. Nobody has any idea as to the cost of safe, long-term disposal or the cost of research required to come up with that solution.

Why am I worrying? My grand-children can sort that out! They'll love me for that, won't they!

But I digress. My point is that it seems to me absurd that we would discard a billion dollar investment in the long-gun registry for the relatively paltry saving of a couple of million dollars a year while justifying the launch into another huge investment into building more and bigger prisons with unknown ripple costs - and all without any published research or findings showing that either course of action has any more link to reality than the windmill dragons of Don Quixote.

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