Spectacularized crime is the grindstone on which the state sharpens its knives. Released amid the rage following the acquittals of the killers of Colten Boushie and Tina Fontaine, the federal Liberal government’s new omnibus crime bill is Conservative law-and-order politics with a because-it’s-2018 rictus.
Bill C-75 revokes not a single Harper-era mandatory minimum sentencing guideline — a Liberal election promise. It doesn’t fulfill the commitment of Trudeau’s mandate letter to Justice Minister Wilson-Raybould to pursue the use of restorative justice processes. It does little to repair the racialized violence of the prison system, or Canada’s queer-phobic and nearly world-leading criminalization of HIV non-disclosure, or the shadow-criminalization of sex work.
Instead, it allows cops literally to mail in their testimony for court cases, not to show up for cross-examination: a gift to prosecutors and the police. For most cases, it eliminates the preliminary hearings that weigh whether there’s enough evidence to proceed, an erosion of the rights of the accused. And it quadruples maximum sentence lengths for a number of crimes reclassified as summary offences, which means the accused has no right to a jury trial. This legal brutality will fall most heavily and most often on the vulnerable populations routinely afflicted by the courts: poor, racialized, queer and trans, and/or mentally ill.
No mystery why the Liberals feint left and swing right on this stuff: “tough on crime” politics gets votes. It gets votes because the spectacle of crime arouses the public’s will to punish, and before the public has the chance to consider whether the sickness can possibly be healed by the legislated cure, the spectacle rolls on, hypnotic.
There is no punitive wish or urge or norm about which there’s the appearance of consensus in civil society that is not soon reflected, however distorted or coopted, in the blood-spattered juridical machine of state.
There is no actually emancipatory vision of a transformed society that can afford to be agnostic about this relationship between public mood and institutional iron.
Anne Boyer: “Every poem against the police is also and always a guardian of love for the world.” Even and especially when you speak of harm and danger, however luminous your phrasing, please try not to write or be implicitly a poem for the police. Such poems get translated into murderous prose like Bill C-75.