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What's Wrong With America? Maybe Nothing

Tuesday, 24 July 2012 12:47

What's wrong with the United States of America? It's a question countless people are asking, in the United States and around the world, following the massacre at a movie theatre in Colorado. Why does the United States spawn such madness, so frequently? And why is it getting worse?

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Making Sense of Sentencing

Thursday, 22 March 2012 10:51

I understand why people are furious at the two-year sentence imposed on Graham James but all the angry shouting and demands for tougher punishments won't do anything to correct the very real problems with criminal sentencing in Canada. It could even make those problems a little worse.

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  • Source © Ottawa Citizen

Euthanasia Is Not A Slippery Slope

Friday, 18 November 2011 16:40

With the release of an important new report, and the launch of another Charter challenge, the debate about euthanasia is flaring up again. It will be passionate. You will hear emotional claims from both sides. Many people will listen to nothing else. But for those who want to be rational, those who want to learn as much as they can and draw a conclusion based on evidence, there is one essential fact to bear in mind.

The Dutch are more honest than we are. Remember that.

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  • Source © Ottawa Citizen

The "Potent Pot" Zombie

Monday, 14 November 2011 10:16

You can't kill a zombie with a pen. Jab it in the eye. Spear it in the chest. It will just keep shuffling along, moaning and snarling and trying to eat your brain.

Here comes one now.

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  • Source © Ottawa Citizen

Stephen Harper's Ottawa-Knows-Best Policy

Friday, 04 November 2011 08:51
There's a store in my neighbourhood. It's got all sorts of stuff. And it doesn't charge me for most of what I buy. Really. I can get whatever I want and most of the bill is divided up and sent to my 10 neighbours. They have to pay, even if they think that what I buy is junk.

It's a sweet deal. For me.

This - in case you didn't recognize it - is how Canada's Constitution apportions responsibility for criminal justice: The federal government decides what the criminal laws will be and the provinces pay to enforce them. Of course there is lots of overlap and complication, particularly with incarceration - those awaiting trial and lesser offenders go to provincial jails while major offenders are sent to federal prisons - but in general the feds can get anything they want and the provinces get stuck with the bill.

It's a sweet deal. If you're the federal government.

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  • Source © Ottawa Citizen

Why Have A Parliament At All?

Thursday, 03 November 2011 08:47

In a sense, it's perfectly reasonable that the government is severely restricting the amount of time Parliament can spend discussing a long list of complex bills that have appeared at various times in various forms in the past and will now, thanks to the Conservative majority, finally become law. The government ignored informed criticisms before. It will ignore them now. So why bother?

Wrap things up quickly, turn off the lights, and the government will at least save a few dollars that can be put toward future purchases of gazebos.

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  • Source © Ottawa Citizen

The Conservatives Are Right. Sort Of.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011 08:58

It is a fact not often recognized in discussions about the Conservative government and criminal justice policy that the government is right. Not about the nature of the problems. Or about the solutions. But still, it is right.

It's right that there are problems. Big ones.

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  • Source © Ottawa Citizen

Mandatory Minimum, Maximum Madness

Monday, 17 October 2011 08:38

The standard argument in favour of mandatory minimum sentences is that they deliver certainty. "If you do X, the minimum punishment you will receive is Y." It's simple, clear, and predictable. And that makes mandatory minimum sentences a powerful deterrent against crime.

The standard response to that argument is: "Look at the research. There's stacks of it. It proves that mandatory minimum sentences don't deter crime."

The standard response to that standard response is, well, nothing. Supporters of mandatory minimums simply ignore the research on deterrence. So let's save a little time today and skip it.

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  • Source © Ottawa Citizen

Who Wouldn't Want The Best Information?

Friday, 14 October 2011 12:55

You are an official in the government making important decisions about public policy. This is serious stuff. Do your work well and many people will benefit. Screw up and they will suffer needlessly.

So what's the one thing you will demand before you make decisions? Knowledge, of course. Whatever your field is - medicine, economics, defence, whatever - you will want to consult independent experts and read up on the latest research. Only then will you be able to make informed decisions.

That's obvious. Only a fool would do things any other way.

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  • Source © Ottawa Citizen

The Government's Mind Is Closed

Friday, 23 September 2011 14:29

I suppose I could write a substantive and serious column about the government's omnibus crime bill.

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  • Source © Ottawa Citizen
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