Monday, October 14,1996
Alternative to criminal factories
There is an air of inequality about the legislation singling out aboriginal offenders for alternative sentences under the criminal code.

After all, why is a crime committed by an aboriginal offender deserving of less punishment and more understanding by society than a non-aboriginal offender?

Is this equal justice?

In the strict interpretation of justice under Canadian law where punishment, deterrence and security lead rehabilitation on the list of justice priorities, such special treatment destroys equality.

Unfortunately, prisons create a community of criminals where equality is based upon survival of the fittest bully. They are criminal factories at $40,000 to $80,000 an annual unit price.

The new criminal code amendment, Bill C-41, is an acknowledgement that people are going into prison for reasons other than evil crimes. Many are crimes of desperation carried out by people who would not have hurt their families, other people or themselves unless they were poor, unemployed and seeking comfort in a culture of partying with alcohol and drugs.

A lot of the methods of sentencing proposed in the name of "aboriginal justice" are really rehabilitation. It is a recognition that the offender must be accept responsibility for the offence but that they also need help dealing with the pressures modern society imposes on each and every one of us.

A very attractive element of rehabilitative justice is the cost. Because community and family resources play a key role in aboriginal justice sentencing, the expense is far less than our prison factories.

The jury is out on whether this rehabilitative approach will stop people from re-offending. It is also critical the victim's wishes be kept front and centre in whatever sentence is handed out, something largely missing from our present judicial system.

There is the threat of a constitutional challenge to anything but the expensive, ineffective status quo of our criminal factories. If so, the constitution must be changed to allow for better methods of dispensing justice.

Perhaps one day aboriginal justice will be considered an important component of the Canadian justice system. (October 14, 1996)

Diamond Days

It's been more than four years since diamonds became a Northern concern.

The company that wants to pull them from the ground has been talking for at least half that long with aboriginal peoples and the myriad layers of government about how to divide the spoils -- and share the responsibilities.

Yet only after Northern Development Minister Ron Irwin cracked the whip, giving BHP Diamonds and the other parties 60 days to work out the details, was progress made.

Maybe we do need deadlines to focus our attention after all. Let's just hope nothing of significance was forgotten in these last-minute negotiations. (October 14, 1996)

Cancer screening

It is time to get a proper breast screening program in the North. Catching breast cancer in the early stages saves needless suffering and mountains of money that would otherwise be spent on later stage treatment that is not always successful.

Technology often has a price tag that frightens short sighted policy makers. But the less visible and unpredictable costs of long term care is breaking the back of our medical budgets.

Why should Health Minister Kelvin Ng wait for a regional board to ask for a breast screening program? The consequences of delay will only cost lives. (October 14, 1996)