Not so hard times

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Is minimum-security prison like summer camp effective?

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. March 23, 2016

What if I told you that there are prisoners—murderers—who were having a better day than you? You would be pretty upset, right? And you aren’t even the victim or the victim’s family and friends. For many, hearing that criminals are having “easy” times as a punishment is an injustice. It’s almost as bad as hearing that they got off free.

This is the case from a recent report by Erin O’Toole, a Federal Conservation public safety critic. She went on to describe a minimum-security prison in BC as being akin to “summer camp.” These prisons are fortified with a recreation centre, tennis courts, and baseball diamonds. In addition, this prison is located in arguably one of the most beautiful regions of the province, with mountain and ocean views.

Now, I know that prisons are not meant to be inhumane torture chambers, they are meant to be more of a rehabilitation centre, where the convict can receive the necessary assistance and treatment so that they may be led back into normal society, where they can contribute in a meaningful way. Whether this is happening more effectively in a comfortable environment is something the victims of the prisoners’ crimes are extremely skeptical and upset about.

The balancing act of trying to find the punishment to fit the crime is not an easy task. It takes a lot of time, money, and effort to make sure that the end result is the “right” result. With the case of summer camp prisons, many believe that the criminals are getting off too easily. Some are even feeling that the prisoners are in fact getting some sort of luxury treatment. For murderers, that type of punishment doesn’t only make light of the heinous act… it almost appears as though the punishment encourages it.

There is a lot to like in our country, but one must admit that our justice system is still full of holes. What we have is often called a “revolving door” criminal system, where criminals go to jail for their crime, endure the hospitable environment, and return to normal society only to recommit the crime. This type of in-and-out prison—a lot like summer camp—does not solve the bigger problem. It doesn’t instill fear or teach repercussions. It’s merely a pause button for criminals. It stalls them from the next crime, like summer camp stalls us from our studies.

The punishment should always fit the crime, but I ask you this: Do the kids who get detention every week really learn from their poor decisions? Probably not, they just become acclimatized to the world they live in. They never change; they merely adapt. They accept that detention is a part of their life. Compared to many, it’s not that bad of a life. To change someone, you must really change their environment, and so it goes with murderers.

SOS Canada

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Should the Canadian consulate rescue troubled citizens abroad?

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor

Formerly published in The Other Press. Jan. 28, 2014

Travellers know the danger of visiting a foreign country; it’s the little extra spice in travelling. They hear stories on the television about political unrest, radical rebels, and petty criminals. Still, their desire to see the world is not dampened by the risks. Travellers know if something happens to them abroad, their citizenship is enough for them to get noticed. Someone back home will care about and miss them. Their government will do whatever it takes to get them back. But what if the travellers were the troublemakers? Should they be brought back home and punished as Canadians?

We all get that anxious feeling when we cross the security checkpoint at airports. Sure, we know that we haven’t committed any crimes and that we aren’t packing any contraband, yet we still worry because the alternative of being guilty is so scary. Put yourself in the shoes of a smuggler; put yourself in the shoes of a smuggler being detained; then put yourself in the shoes of a smuggler sentenced to death. So, I ask again, should Canada save you?

Currently, the Canadian consular office provides detainees the ability to communicate with their home country, presents proper nutrition, and connects them with a legal representative, but it does not get them out of jail or post their bail or make travel accommodations for their family. Although some countries have transfer of offender arrangements—including Brazil, United Kingdom, and Thailand—many other countries don’t. The Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade, and Development has a lot of limitations when it comes to another country’s judicial system.

Travellers are not just Canadian citizens; they must also be citizens of the world. To say that they don’t know the law in another country isn’t a good excuse. That is just ignorance and deserves to be punished. The same way you wouldn’t jump into an ocean if you don’t know how to swim or what lies beneath, you shouldn’t dive into a foreign country if you don’t know what will pose harm for you, the locals, and your country’s image.

Remember that when you’re abroad you’re a representative of your homeland, regardless of where you’re from and what your background is. As much as you want to have an awesome time and make wonderful memories, it’s also important to respect other people’s home and country. Remember that you’re a guest and that you’re not entitled to anything. Be respectful and treat Cambodia, Cameroon, and Colombia the way you would treat Canada. If you follow ethical behaviour wherever you go—you know, the kind of stuff your mother taught you—you likely stay out of trouble.