AIDS expert Julio Montaner says Conservative crime bill will undermine public health

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      The immediate past president of the International AIDS Society, Dr. Julio Montaner, says the Conservative government's crime agenda will jeopardize the health of some marginalized people.

      After a public-policy forum at Liberal MP Joyce Murray's constituency office, Montaner told the Georgia Straight that the government's omnibus crime legislation, Bill C-10, is "totally counterproductive" and will make it more difficult for physicians to deliver public-health services to people who are poor, First Nations, mentally ill, at risk of HIV, or drug-addicted.

      "This law is all about incarcerating the people that this government views as the 'other Canadians' for which they have no time for or no interest," Montaner claimed.

      Dr. Julio Montaner condemns the Conservatives' crime legislation.

      Montaner is director of the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS at St. Paul's Hospital and is a professor of medicine and the chair in AIDS research at the University of British Columbia.

      Bill C-10, known as "The Safe Streets and Communities Act", combines nine Conservative bills from the last Parliament that didn't become law.

      Among its provisions are the elimination of house arrest for violent crimes, mandatory jail terms for people who grow marijuana for the purpose of trafficking, tougher parole rules, tougher penalties for sexual offences against children, and giving the minister of public safety legal authority to refuse to let Canadians convicted in other countries from returning home to serve their sentences.

      Yesterday, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said in Parliament that the bill "builds upon our government's already impressive track record of cracking down on crime and standing up for victims".

      "The bill proposes a fair and balanced approach in allowing victims of terrorism to seek redress," he added. "First and foremost, the proposed legislation would allow any victim of terrorism to sue the perpetrators of terrorism and their supporters. The bill would allow these victims to seek redress for a terrorist act that occurred on or after January 1, 1985."

      Vancouver-Kingsway NDP MP Don Davies, however, said in Parliament that nothing in the Conservative crime bill deals with prevention. He noted that 80 percent of people in federal prison suffer from at least one addiction.

      "I do not think one has to be a criminologist to realize that if we really want to assist people so that they do not commit an offence once they leave prison, it would be wise to put resources into addressing their addiction," Davies said.

      Montaner claimed that the crime bill is "totally counterproductive". He also maintained that it's not supported by evidence, and would put Canada on a path pursued by the Bush administration, which eagerly locked up people convicted of drug offences.

      "The level of services that you get within the correctional system are limited," Montaner said. "With the overcrowding that is going to result from this law, it's clear to me that the system is not prepared to absorb the needs of these individuals."

      The AIDS doctor said that the billions that the Conservative crime agenda will cost would be better spent on preventing crime and disease. "We could house these people not in jail, but in proper housing," he stated. "Jail is not a housing policy for this country."

      The Harper government has appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada to overturn a ruling that it would be unconstitutional to close Insite, a supervised-injection facility in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

      Earlier this year, Montaner coauthored a paper in the Lancet stating that Insite reduced overdose deaths in the area by 35 percent.

      Meanwhile, Murray told the Straight that she convened the meeting in her office to hear from a wide range of organizations with an interest in criminal-justice issues. It was cochaired by Liberal senator Art Eggleton, a former mayor of Toronto.

      She claimed that the Conservatives' "punishment agenda" flies in face of good public policy. To support this claim, Murray pointed to California, where spending on the criminal-justice system has risen from three percent of the budget in 1980 to more than 11 percent today.

      "The overcrowding in jails, really, is a human-rights issue," the Liberal MP said. "It also leads to more crime in the jails and more crime outside the jails."

      She said that this approach is "completely unsustainable", adding that California is reversing its policies because of the prohibitive costs.

      Liberal MP Joyce Murray says the Harper government's approach is "completely unsustainable".

      At the same time, Murray acknowledged that the Canadian public supports a tough-on-crime approach because people want to feel safe and secure.

      "It's an emotional issue, but the evidence shows that the current approach that the Conservatives are taking with the mandatory minimums, with jail sentences for a far wider range of acitvities, with the greater difficulty in getting parole—the consequences of those things will be more crime , more poverty, more social injustice," Murray stated. "And it's completely counterproductive, as Dr. Montaner said, to society's efforts to reduce AIDS and treat addiction and mental health as the health issues they are."

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      Sep 24, 2011 at 10:05am

      The Conservatives have a majority, any critics are whistling in the wind. The time to speak about the Conservatives, agenda, would have been during the election. Not now.

      Neils Jamor

      Sep 24, 2011 at 11:41am

      THIS is the time to speak out on the misguided plans by the Conservatives; that's what democracy is all about!


      Sep 24, 2011 at 5:52pm

      prison just creates better criminals. you go in serving 1yr for a minor drug conviction and you come out a member of organized crime.

      Taxpayers R Us

      Sep 24, 2011 at 11:45pm

      The Conservative Crime Bill will undermine any and all progress made in the 20th and 21st centuries.

      Harper is a complete whore to the US Right.


      Sep 26, 2011 at 10:15pm

      No doubt Mr. Montaner is an intelligent man. However, his arguments that the Conservative omnibus bill is in the "American Bush agenda" is am unintellectual argument meant to fearmonger. Truly disappointing.

      What disturbs me is not once in Montaner or Murray's statements did they mention victims. A lot of pseudo-intellectual hype about "public policy," but little concern for those who have been victimized by those who sell drugs or traffick children for sexual exploitation. These bills are about protecting the average Canadian from having a serial offender released into the community over and over again. It’s about putting some balance into a lax justice system.

      There is of course a place for rehabilitation. Canada already invests a lot in rehabilitation and prevention programs. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to rehabilitate all the crime out of society. Also, criminals can’t get the help they need if they keep on going in and out of jail. That’s where tougher sentences come in. THIS was dismissed by Murray as merely "emotional issues." I would think she's out-of-touch.

      Pamela Groening

      Sep 27, 2011 at 1:32am

      This is soooo scary. And totally consistent with the PC agenda. Unless you are a multinational corporation, or a member of the Asper family, you may as well just die off. Not sure how Harper got a majority govt...always thought Canadians were intelligent. Guess we had a mass brain freeze on election day.

      Will Cardinal

      Jan 4, 2012 at 2:07am

      To avoid advise from those well equipped to give it, reminds me of how some adolescents treat it! That rebellious glare that tells you you're not dealing with a rational mind! When dealing with underlying agenda, there is no possibility of rational expectation, or positive outcome! He's simply not listening! And so we're off to the Harper dog & pony show until its over, how ever that happens! Its also apparent that both the other parties need the wake up call that Jack would have made very clear! This isn't the old conservative party that you had some differences with; this is a hybrid of the reform party with an amoral meglo at the helm... without a combined effort/mutiny, we're sailing off to that Brave New World Order the Bushes endorsed! Pipelines and freeways (with toll booths) from N. Alta to S. America!