Opinion: 'Tough on crime' Kamloops MP accused of grandstanding

MP called out for comments

Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo MP Frank Caputo made national headlines recently with his public crusade against the supposed privileges granted to convicted murderers Paul Bernardo and Luka Magnotta.

Caputo, apparently allergic to tact and common decency, produced a sensationalized video with its own soundtrack to “expose” the supposedly luxurious conditions enjoyed by the two killers, including the right to play “taxpayer-funded serial killer pickup hockey.”

Caputo’s version of events, including his breathless account of a face-to-face encounter with Bernardo, was immediately challenged by officials with Corrections Canada who, among other points, noted the hockey rink at La Macaza Institution is not even functional. Caputo’s preposterous claim that incarcerated inmates “are living better than most Canadians” was also the subject of scorn and ridicule from those familiar with the living conditions in Canadian penitentiaries.

It is tempting to dismiss Caputo’s theatrics as typical political posturing from a politician with an underdeveloped sense of shame.

After all, having backed the wrong horse in the 2022 Conservative Party leadership election, Caputo must demonstrate his fealty and utility to (Conservative Leader Pierre) Poilievre if he hopes to compete with Ontario Conservative MP, Larry Brock, another former prosecutor, for the position of justice minister in a Poilievre cabinet.

Facile and exploitative attack videos are emblematic of Poilievre’s political style and are likely to enhance Caputo’s status with his boss.

However, by attacking rehabilitative programming in correctional facilities, Caputo endangers public safety. Irredeemable sociopaths like Bernardo and Magnotta represent a tiny fraction of the population housed in Canadian penitentiaries and they are certain to spend the rest of their lives behind bars.

Most inmates will eventually be released into Canadian society and it is the treatment they receive while imprisoned that will likely determine whether they reintegrate successfully or remain dangerous.

Punitive rules meant to inflict suffering on inmates are counterproductive in that they increase the risk of recidivism. The United States has among the harshest penal systems in the world and suffers the highest rates of violence in the developed world.

Norway and other Western European countries on the other hand, work to treat their prisoners humanely and have a fraction of the violence and crime. Given this disparity, it’s mystifying why the media reward Caputo and other right-wing politicians with the title of “tough-on-crime,” when they continually propose discredited solutions to criminal behaviour.

On the serious, systemic issues facing the justice system in Canada, Caputo’s attitude is either wrongheaded or completely silent. Indigenous Canadians are massively overrepresented in the criminal justice system, a problem his party chose not to address in their most recent policy platform.

On the issue of gun crimes, the Conservatives have promised to repeal Bill C-21, which restricted the use of handguns and assault rifles, despite the support it enjoys from the Coalition for Gun Control, an alliance of more than 200 health, crime prevention, victims, policing, women’s and community organizations across Canada.

When it comes to the rights and safety of transgendered youth, abject cowardice has characterized Caputo’s response. Following Alberta Premier Danielle Smith’s announcement of proposed anti-transgender legislation in February, Caputo abruptly cancelled a press availability, apparently on the instructions of Poilievre, who ordered his MPs not to discuss the subject.

This followed Caputo’s refusal to take a position on the human rights of trans people in September 2023, when he stated: “I won’t have any comment on it until he (Poilievre) addresses it because he is our leader,” adding, “His (Poilievre’s) comment will probably be exactly what I have to say because he’s the leader.”

Whereas most Canadian politicians might have tried to mask their fawning servility to avoid embarrassment, Caputo’s eagerness to please Poilievre seems unconstrained by any sense of dignity or principle.

Caputo seems likely to continue his unfortunate grandstanding, while ignoring substantive issues. Following his rebuke by Corrections Canada, he attempted to bait Anne Kelly, the commissioner of the Correctional Service of Canada, into debating him on talk radio.

His smug and taunting letter to Kelly was disingenuous, as he surely knows it would be inappropriate for non-partisan senior bureaucrats to debate Opposition politicians in the media.

One wonders if his inconstant bravery applies to debating people who can fight back. If so, I would welcome the opportunity.

Joe Killoran is a lawyer with the Jensen Law Group in Kamloops.

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