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Manitoba rally joins national opposition: Crime omnibus bill

   
 


Shaun Loney (at the microphone), Executive Director of Building Urban Industries for Local Development (BUILD), addressed a  Nov. 8 rally speaking out against the federal government’s crime omnibus bill. Andrew Swan, Minister of Justice and Attorney General for Manitoba (NDP) said Manitoba favours Bill C-10.

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November 9, 2011
- from reports

Winnipeg, Man. — The federal government’s Bill C-10 – part of a wider crime omnibus bill – had already met opposition in Newfoundland, Quebec, Ontario, and British Columbia, by the time Manitobans rallied in opposition.

The Nov. 8 rally organized by the John Howard Society was sparked in part by comments from Andrew Swan, Minister of Justice and Attorney General for Manitoba, who said that Manitoba favours Bill C-10. The social services community believes Bill C-10 will aggravate already overcrowded Manitoba jails and siphon much needed money away from social programs and other proactive crime-reduction initiatives that could have far-reaching, longer term benefits. Over 350 people attended the rally at the provincial legislature in Winnipeg, said a John Howard Society spokesperson.

John Hutton, Executive Director of John Howard Society Manitoba and a member of Hope Mennonite Church in Winnipeg, addressed the crowd. Citing several sources, he stressed that more time in prison results in more rather than in less crime, and wastes taxpayer dollars that could be used more effectively to reduce crime by supporting restorative justice models, funding preventative social, and educational programming – all of which he said have proven success records.

Hutton’s themes were echoed by speakers from the Elizabeth Fry Society, the West Broadway Women’s Resource Network, BUILD, Occupy Winnipeg, and an Aboriginal spokesperson. Jacquie Nicholson, Literacy Program Coordinator at John Howard Society Manitoba works directly with inmates at Winnipeg’s Remand Centre. She spoke on behalf of her incarcerated students to ensure their voices were heard.

Nicholson quoted one inmate, who predicted that increased incarceration rates will only benefit organized crime. “Gangs thrive on your misconception that locking them up will stop them. Jails become a type of headquarters. Splitting up gangs and transporting them to different jails across the country in an effort to divide and conquer only creates and multiplies the problem on a national level, creating a syndicate, a network, an organization, the very thing you are trying to combat,” he wrote. “You will be brought to your knees through the billions of dollars you spend following your own recipe for disaster.”

Another remand centre inmate said, “I believe at least 90% of us are caught in a cycle of the revolving door of justice because of learned behaviours. If given proper programs and life skills, I think we could free ourselves of jail.”

Mennonite Church Canada representatives Elsie Rempel and Vic Thiessen attended the rally. Rempel together with her husband, has been involved in restorative justice programs for 16 years. The couple has befriended “a lifer” she said. “I have seen first hand the degeneration of training and visitation opportunities from the inside. I wanted to add my voice to those who wish to defeat the bill. I see it as very expensive and counter-productive to the goal of rehabilitating criminals,” she said.

While applause frequently affirmed the thoughtful presentations, BUILD’s chants to “Kill the Bill” did the most to energize the polite crowd. The rally concluded with a solidarity walk to Winnipeg’s nearby Remand Centre to show its incarcerated residents that others were speaking out on their behalf and investing in restorative rather than punitive justice models.