The way we were

A week ago the Public Safety Minister recalled words uttered 39 years ago by a former solicitor general to explain the current Conservative government’s differences with the current Liberal party when it comes to current crime policy. The specific comment of Jean-Pierre Goyer’s that Mr. Toews seems to have been referring are as follows.

“Consequently, we have decided from now to stress the rehabilitation of individuals rather than protection of society.”

Mr. Goyer made these comments during a speech in the House on the afternoon of October 7, 1971. Specifically, and for the record, he was addressing proposed reforms to the prison system. Concerned about both the cost of an imprisoning an individual and the rate of recidivism, Mr. Goyer had introduced various measures: from new haircuts and clothing to new housing arrangements and greater access to work and education.

The first response to the solicitor general’s comments that day was offered by Eldon M. Woolliams, the MP for Calgary North and the justice critic for the Progressive Conservative party. His speech is noteworthy in its own right. A few excerpts.

First of all, I want to congratulate the minister for realizing at last that crime is not just a sordid happening but rather a result of human behaviour brought about by our economic and social conditions which we have failed to change.

I hope the minister realizes that crime is not only the fault of the prisoner but the fault of society as well. Everyone is born as clean as a white piece of paper. It is society that creates the environment which leads to crime.

Can the 7,000 or 8,000 prisoners in Canada turn over tonight in their little cots in the loneliness of their cells and say: Something is going to be done for us; things will be better for us in the future. We must be prepared to spend money on reform. It is all right to talk, but we must be prepared to spend money if we are actually to get reform.

For those who make up our crime problem, penitence has little meaning. By and large their lives are so empty, they are so full of frustration and despair, they are so sick in mind and body, and their entire life experience, providing them grist for thought, is so totally lacking in charity that contemplation is more likely to cause anger at society’s sins than remorse for what they themselves have done.

It is, in its entirety, a rather remarkable speech. If anything, Mr. Woolliams’ position on the importance of rehabilitation seems even more strident than Mr. Goyer’s.

And if you’d like to read it, as well as Mr. Goyer’s remarks and the rest of the debate, you can either walk up to the Library of Parliament—Parliament Hill’s loveliest room—and ask to be pointed in the direction of the Hansard records, or you can click here, where I’ve had a copy of the relevant pages converted into a downloadable format.