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Canada’s Impotent Justice System Is the Product of Dysfunctional Canadian Democracy

Conservatives have been pressuring “the Liberal government to address what they term a violent crime wave, citing the killings of five police officers in five months and a surge of violence in cities across Canada.” Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre said that violent crime is up 32 percent, gang killings are up 92 percent, and “Police tell us that often they have to arrest the same people multiple times in the very same day because they are released again and again on bail.” Liberal justice minister David Lametti said that “there is a need to restore trust in Canada’s justice system and address Canadians’ worries about recent violence.”

The pathetic performance of Canada’s justice system has been evident for many decades, regardless of which party is in power. While there has been much recent concern about violent crimes committed by individuals released on bail, it has been a standard feature of Canada’s so-called justice system:

During a 33-year period from 1975 to 2008, some 508 criminals who, after extensive psychological testing and interviewing were judged no danger to public safety by the NPB [National Parole Board], were released from prison and in that period killed 557 perfectly innocent Canadians.

Of the 508 killers mentioned, 10 percent were on day parole—they walked out and on the same day killed 49 Canadians. (emphasis original)

This high level of incompetency also infects the other two components of Canada’s justice system, the police and courts. If we define the solving of a crime as the capture and conviction of the perpetrator, regardless of sentence imposed, we discover that roughly 81 percent of homicides are NOT solved by the government, and their track record is even worse with crimes of rape, attempted murder, and robbery.

Democracy Rewards Failure

When we shop for food, clothes, cars, haircuts, electronics, etc., service is linked to payment. If we do not like the product or service that we expect to receive in return for our payment, we are not obligated to complete the transaction because all transactions are voluntary. We can shop elsewhere because competition exists. Therefore, if they want to be profitable, businesses are forced to accommodate our preferences because that is the only way to persuade us to part with our money. Consumers are in control.

In contrast, within the realm of government, consumers are ignored, competition is forbidden, transactions are compulsory, coercion replaces persuasion, and service is severed from payment. The government is in control, and it arbitrarily determines (a) the price to be charged (taxes) for a particular service and (b) the level of service to be provided. Accountability disappears, and perverse incentives arise.

Having stacked the deck in its favor, the government has little incentive to prevent crimes, solve crimes, or rehabilitate criminals because less money allocated to these tasks means more money is available for exorbitant bureaucratic salaries. Likewise, government inefficiency is a magnet that attracts power-hungry politicians and bureaucrats, who promise—yet again—that higher taxes are the solution to reducing crime. Power and money flows to politicians and bureaucrats, while taxpayers continue to pay for third-rate services.

To sum up, the modus operandi of the justice system is a forced extraction of large sums of money in return for various services, without being legally obligated to actually provide these services. Thus, the justice system does not embody sufficient incentives to prevent crimes, solve crimes, or reform criminals with any reasonable degree of efficacy.

However, when someone suggests that these services could be handled more efficiently in the private sector, politicians and bureaucrats claim that essential services will quickly deteriorate if they are subjected to the whims of private entities, who care only about profits. But, as we have seen, private entities can be profitable only if they provide services valued by consumers. So, the real government mantra is this: “We will forbid private entities from earning profits so that we may steal profits from taxpayers.” In other words, it is the politicians and bureaucrats, not private entities, who care only about profits. As Bruce Benson wrote, “The fact that government law has taken over as much as it has is not a reflection of the superior efficiency of representative government . . . It is, rather, a reflection of government’s general purpose of transferring wealth to those with political power.”

Selling Victims Down the River

Contrary to what politicians claim, a criminal does not owe a debt to society, but rather to a specific member of society—the victim. The debt must be paid to the victim by the person who incurred the debt. A system that forcibly extracts resources from other members of society to support government bureaucracies and convicted criminals in government prisons is, as Benson wrote, “a reflection of government’s general purpose of transferring wealth to those with political power.”

Moreover, drugs, rape, and other acts of violence are common in government prisons. This encourages recidivism, not rehabilitation, which guarantees a continual transfer of wealth to these so-called correctional bureaucracies. Meanwhile, victims are rarely compensated.

Before kings and governments monopolized the justice system for their own benefit, the law was in the hands of the people, for their benefit. This was known as customary law (law established in recognition of evolving customs). Under customary law, when an offense was committed, victim restitution, not imprisonment, was expected. The offender must compensate his victim. To facilitate this, most people voluntarily joined mutually beneficial legal institutions based on the concept of reciprocity. This was an effective arrangement that achieved a high degree of restitution.

In stark contrast to the government’s pathetic record of preventing and solving crimes, “victim justice” under customary law actually discouraged individuals from committing offenses in the first place: “If I kill, rape, or steal, I know for certain that a protection agency will be hot on my trail.” Moreover, it was unlikely that dangerous offenders would be released into the community, contrary to what the government does today. Instead, these offenders would likely face capital punishment or permanent incarceration if they work hard enough to compensate their victims and cover the cost of their own confinement.

Customary law is the enemy of democracy. In a democracy, it is illegal for private entities to produce services that would compete with government bureaucracies. In other words, the legality of a specific action is not determined by the nature of the action itself but by whether or not the person initiating the action is a member of the political class.

Thus, equality under the law disappears, political accountability disappears, and politicians routinely make campaign promises that they have no intention of keeping because democracy encourages them to lie. Special interest groups dictate government policy, while regular voters are ignored. The result is high taxation, uncontrolled spending, burgeoning bureaucracies, and massive government debt, all of which falls on the backs of the people whose opinions are routinely dismissed.

The government also enriches its bureaucracies by redefining numerous peaceful activities as crimes, even though there are no victims. Whereas the people, if consulted, might reject these laws because, from their perspective, the cost of enforcement cannot be justified. Wasteful spending is a prominent feature of most democratic governments, where bankruptcy is a foreign concept.

In contrast, firms in the private sector have a strong incentive to control costs because the alternative is bankruptcy. Competition ensures that entrepreneurs are motivated to offer high-quality services that the people want at a price that the people are willing to pay.

Do we want services to be provided by people operating within democratic institutions that extract profits by granting politicians legal authority to steal money from consumers’ pockets without satisfying their preferences?

Or do we want services to be provided by people in an unhampered market, in an environment of open competition, where consumer satisfaction is the only path to profits?

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