Yesterday, Justin Trudeau's Liberals took the first steps toward establishing an inquiry into murdered and missing Aboriginal Women. Those actions, and the mandate Trudeau has given his Minister of Justice -- Jody Wilson-Raybould -- are clear signs that Canadian justice policy has undergone a radical shift. Rosemary Cairns Way writes:
The mandate letter highlights the problem of the increasing incarceration rate of Indigenous Canadians (they represent 23 per cent of the federally incarcerated and just 4 per cent of the population), the overreliance on (and abuse of) solitary confinement in overcrowded and under-resourced federal correctional institutions (currently the subject of constitutional litigation in Ontario and British Columbia), and gaps in service for both Aboriginal Peoples and the mentally ill which plague the criminal justice system. The mandated review sends a very clear signal that the era of punitive and ideologically-driven criminal justice reform is over.
Under Stephen Harper, justice was all about punishment and victims rights. Focusing on the rights of victims -- particularly victims who are women -- is laudable:
Paying explicit attention to the needs of victims is always politically wise. It remains to be seen whether this commitment will have any real impact on how women victimized by violence experience the criminal justice system. The admission that the system is failing women is an essential first step.
But, unlike the perennial battle which has once again surfaced in the United States,
The Liberal platform on handguns and assault weapons is focused on tighter gun control and increasing restrictions on gun ownership. While it undoubtedly will be vigorously resisted by the gun lobby, it’s unlikely that the implementation of this policy will put the government at risk of being labelled “soft on crime,” a fate most governments are eager to avoid.
Most importantly, the fixation with punishment will fade:
The letter specifically identifies community safety and value-for-money as legitimate goals, suggesting that this government recognizes that putting more people in jail for longer periods of time is an expensive and ineffective way to keep the public safe. It is also a strategy which disproportionately targets the already vulnerable — something the previous Conservative government consistently refused to admit.
Perhaps we are witnessing the return of The Just Society.