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Sunday, January 15, 2006

Self-respect for politically engaged prisoners

From small dead animals talking about a program in which prisoners develop a sense of responsibility and self-respect by being allowed to escort other prisoners on shopping trips:

[Correctional Services Canada] spokeswoman Michele Pilon-Santilli insisted the program is valuable for teaching responsible citizenship and said only "minor incidents" have been reported.

Like the Ferndale Resort Prison, the $700,000 CSC "pilot program" to provide prison tattoos (pick your gang affiliation from the samples on the wall!), spa days for women inmates and the unbelievable policy that prohibits prison guards from carrying weapons of any type when escorting dangerous inmates in public - why isn't this an election issue?

The Canadian government paying for tattoos. One wonders if it covers other body art, like this one, since being politically aware is certainly an important part of "responsible citizenship":

click to enlarge

No, it's not a Photoshop.  It's real.  And paid for by you and me.

As we all know now, prisoners overwhelming vote Liberal.

But in this case I'm not going to be upset about paying for this haircut. Let's spread this image around. Let everyone see the face of the Liberal voter and ask themselves why a Liberal voter is wearing a blue jumpsuit and waiting in line for one of his three squares a day before his hour in the exercise yard.

And then maybe they'll ask themselves whether some Liberal party members who have been caught in this scandal or that should be spending some quality time getting to know their supporters better.

Maybe the jumpsuits should be Liberal red.

Posted by Steve Janke on January 15, 2006 | Permalink


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I thought it was Paul Coffin in that picture for a second there.

Posted by: Michael Dabioch | 2006-01-15 11:51:28 AM

Criminals support the Liberals. Layton and Martin support the criminal vote. Harper supports US-style voting laws where the idea of inmates voting is laughable. Next thing you know, Harper will want prison and border guards (and soldiers) to carry guns - in Canada! Choose your Canada. We're not making this up!

Posted by: John Chittick | 2006-01-15 12:43:09 PM

I thought that the hired goons for Bond villains usually wore orange jumpsuits.

Posted by: Paul Canniff | 2006-01-15 1:09:50 PM

Hey don't complain .. This is a good idea .. we should support the tattoing of all criminals.

Then we will know who they are when they are released and treat them accordingly.

Perhaps we should move the tattoos to the forehead so they will not be hidden by longer hair.

I will happily pay for this program.


Posted by: Duke | 2006-01-15 2:06:11 PM


Can you explain to me the point of letting someone out only to banish them from the rest of society? What we need to do is punish criminals properly, that way they will not want to go back to jail.

Posted by: 3.5.8 | 2006-01-15 6:20:10 PM

It is such an easy target to take the vote away from prisoners.

But be careful -- it puts you in some unsavoury company worldwide.

Voting is a fundamental right that should never be taken away.

As a "punishment", it does nothing to protect society, it does nothing to rehabilitate, it does nothing to deter crime, it does nothing to prevent crime. On the contrary, it can be argued that by further isolating individuals it ultimately works against these goals.

It is only a soundbite that plays well to people who haven't though through the consequences of the law. It is, afterall, the same law that used around the world to silence political prisoners fighting against unjust regimes. As a general principle, taking away someone's right to vote is just plain bad policy.

Posted by: bob | 2006-01-15 8:24:01 PM

Is that you Bagdad Bob? Seriously , it is obvious that you have never been a victim. You would not be speaking up for criminal's 'right' to vote if you had had your 'right' to life taken away by one of them.
In countries where political dissenters are imprisoned (like in Saddam's Iraq) the peons (citizens) either do not vote because they live in a Dictatorship by the military or in places like Communist Cuba they vote but there is only the 'Dear Leader' (Castro) on the ballot.
When you are in prison you are being punished for BREAKING the Law - prisoners should not be 'entitled' to help make new laws by voting. Maybe the Age of entitlements to the criminal element will end soon. Let us pray that it will be so.

Posted by: jema54j | 2006-01-15 8:38:29 PM


I totally disagree with your statement. Taking away there right to vote does not in the least equate to taking away there rights to protest. Unlike the 'unsavory company' you allude to, Canadian prisoners can still speak out and write anything they want to protest whatever they don't agree with.
For rehabilitation to work the prisoner has to want to be rehabilitated. This is where the Canadian justice system has fallen off the tracks. The majority of the hardcore criminals in our jails do not want to be rehabilitated, and will not ever be rehabilitated. Therefore the only avenue left is harsh sentencing to protect society from these dead-enders.

Posted by: missing link | 2006-01-15 8:42:51 PM

Not that the display particularily hurts the CPC, but I thought that public displays of a partisan nature were not allowed at polls.

Posted by: Bernie | 2006-01-15 9:40:49 PM

If the socialists, crypto-bolsheviks, liberals (whatever you want to call the present governing regime) get in on Jan. 23, 2006, then its time for Albertans to say sayonara to Soviet Union-lite and strike out on their own as a new nation.

Posted by: sirjohnA | 2006-01-15 9:54:12 PM

Jema54j, the ability to vote is not an "entitlement", it is a right. There is a big, big, difference.

Missing link. You claim that rehabilitation requires prisoners to want rehabilitation. Do you not think that participating in the political process reflects and furthers that goal?

Posted by: bob | 2006-01-15 10:06:01 PM

I suppose you think that you have a 'right' to live, or maybe you just feel entitled to breath. Maybe you have been told that living is for your elitist 'Masters" only -sort of like access to Private Health Care . Did you know that you can walk, you are 'entitled' to walk - was 'doormat' duty regulated to you by a union or did you volunteer?

Posted by: jema54j | 2006-01-15 10:25:41 PM


Not really. I think they are only voting for there own selfish interests/reasons. Where as I believe non-incarcerated Canadians vote to better their country and the democratic process.

It is dubious to suggest allowing criminals to vote will put them on the road to salvation. I equate it with the death row prisoner who suddenly finds Jesus in his final hour, too little to late in my opinion. Again if they won’t/can’t change they are lost regardless.
I am not against at least making an attempt to rehabilitate criminals, but if one does not behave properly (break the law) then one must be punished. Remember something here. Most of these people hurt, raped or killed others, in effect taking away there victims rights. At the very least we owe it to the victims of crime to remove a few of the perpetrators rights.

Posted by: missing link | 2006-01-15 10:40:22 PM

Funny, I thought people in prison didn't have the rights of other citizens. If they do, why are they locked up? OH right, that crime thing....right, I am glad we have THAT straightened out. I am emailing that pic of the prisoner with the Liberal L on his head to all my friends who think Paul Martin needs another chance.

Can we have a little sanity please?

Posted by: Mark in Bowmanville | 2006-01-15 11:46:26 PM


Nice rebuttal. I especially like how you use entirely ad hominum attacks on someone you know absolutely nothing about. Well done. A perfect example of the weakest form of argument.

I'm perfectly willing to entertain arguments for the advantages of disenfranchising prisoners. So far, all I've heard is "because they are bad people" . . . oh, and "you are a Liberal shill/communist/bleading heart/union member."

C'mon people. If you want to have a discussion, let's have a discussion. The Shotgun used to be a place where ideas were debated. Where has all of that gone?

Missing Link. People have the right to vote for whatever reasons they see fit. Do you really want to go down a line where people have to justify their own reasons for voting a particular way? Do you honestly non-prisoners don't vote in their own best interests?

Mark in Bowmanville. It is permissable to take away rights if it can be "justified in a free and democratic society". So, we can lock someone up if we believe it will protect society. But can you explain to me how taking away a prisoner's vote protects society in any meaningful way. And can anyone else explain how removing the most fundamental part of democracy is "justified in a free and democratic society?".

As I said above, As a "punishment", disenfranchisement does nothing to protect society, it does nothing to rehabilitate, it does nothing to deter crime, it does nothing to prevent crime. On the contrary, it can be argued that by further isolating individuals it ultimately works against these goals.

So on what basis, exactly, is it justified, other than spite. I assume you would all be arguing just as vehemently if the guy on the news was going to vote CPC, right?

Posted by: bob | 2006-01-16 7:03:46 AM

Well bob, what exactly do you suggest we do with people who break the law?

Posted by: table | 2006-01-16 7:30:23 AM


I'm not sure I follow your question. I don't believe that I ever said I was opposed to prison sentences. On the contrary, I'm in favour of tougher sentences, tougher parole, etc.

I simply don't see how taking away the vote accomplishes anything positive, while it seriously deforms the democratic process.

Also, could everyone please stop with the implication that everyone in jail is there because of a violent crime or murder. It isn't true. Most are there for non-violent drug possession or property crimes. Or are you making a distinction -- some prisoners should be able to vote while others shouldn't.

Posted by: Bob | 2006-01-16 7:45:43 AM

Call me old fashioned, but when a person cannot live within the framework of the laws that govern a civilized society, they should not be entitled to the rights of that society.
I am all for rehabilitation, as we can't keep people locked up forever, but they must be 'punished' as well.

Posted by: beancounter | 2006-01-16 7:46:16 AM

For Jema54j, who seems to think that no real conservative could ever support the prisoners' rights to vote, I give you Andrew Coyne, who says it much better than I do. I presume his conservative credentials are sufficiently documented.


For beancounter. How about those convicted of bad laws. For example, what if the Liberal party arrested all those who haven't paid their gun registration and convicted them right before the election so that they couldn't vote. Outlandish, yes. But the principle is identical.

I'll leave the final word to Coyne:

"Imprisonment is the necessary and sufficient punishment for their misdeeds, which is why it has been used in nearly all societies at all times. It provides an opportunity for rehabilitation and a deterrent against future crimes, in addition to simply removing a potential threat to society for the prescribed time.
So we take away their freedom of movement. But we do not deprive them of all their rights in the bargain: they retain righ to counsel etc. So why do we single out the right to vote? We might, if there was some pressing reason to do so -- if allowing prisoners to vote presented the same sort of threat to society as allowing them to be at large. But it's hard to see how this could be established, and most arguments for depriving them of the right to vote don't even try. It usually boils down to "because we feel like it."

Posted by: Bob | 2006-01-16 8:12:24 AM

I think 5 year olds should be able to vote. They are canadian citizens, most of whom have never broken a single law, and the Charter states they cannot be discriminated against because of age. Thus, they have a RIGHT to vote.

Posted by: gym | 2006-01-16 8:46:35 AM


Pretty dumb statement. 5-year olds are not permitted to vote because it is assumed that they do not have the mental facilities/maturity to understand the issues at hand.

Are you really equating the mental faculties of prisoners with 5-year olds?

An amazingly paternalistic attitude on a forum where Big Government paternalism is usually derided as nanny-statism.

But, if you want to take that route, perhaps we should just give everyone a test before they can vote. Maybe while they are waiting in line. How many newspapers do you read a week? Who is the Minister of Finance? What is your IQ? If they pass then they get to vote. If they don't -- sorry, better study up better for the next election.

Posted by: bob | 2006-01-16 9:11:50 AM

I agree that some laws are asinine, but that's my opinion, and I choose which laws I will obey and which I won't, but making that choice puts me in jeopardy of losing some of my rights. There cannot be any disctintion between which laws are okay to break (because of their stupidity) and which laws you likely should not break (drug trafficking, etc). By chosing to live in this country (and vote a certain way), you are stuck with the laws that our 'esteemed' government decides to enforce...
I still feel that anyone who choses to break ANY law and is convicted and incarcerated loses the right to chose who governs our society.

Posted by: beancounter | 2006-01-16 9:14:21 AM


That is an easy attitude to maintain in a country where people are not routinely jailed as political prisoners.

But it sure hurts those folks fighting against unjust regimes in Haiti, Tunisia, and various other ME, African, and S.American countries -- folks who are jailed with the specific intention of silencing their political voice.

The whole idea of invading Iraq - or so the story goes - was to bring real democracy. Democrasy - one person, one vote - is seen as the key to liberating the entire ME. If democracy is the key to freedom over there, it makes no sense to restrict it here at home -- especially for such arbitrary reasons.

Again, I (and Coyne) haven't yet encountered an argument about why removing this particular right (as opposed to many other rights) is beneficial for society as a whole.

Posted by: bob | 2006-01-16 9:28:17 AM

Bob, your comments are pretty dumb. Maybe you should take a test.

From the Charter -

3. Every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly and to be qualified for membership therein.

15. (1) Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or MENTAL or PHYSICAL DISABILITY.

Got that? Mental disabilities is not a reason to discriminate. I guess we have to stop picking on you, then.

Posted by: gym | 2006-01-16 9:56:14 AM

So what exactly is your point, then, gym? What exactly is the parallel between 5-year olds and prisoners that should require us to treat them the same way in terms of having the right to vote?

Or do you seriously want 5-year olds to vote?

Posted by: bob | 2006-01-16 10:03:04 AM

Imprisoned persons fighting unjust regimes are unlikely to have the right to vote, and if they did, you cannot trust the election process to accurately 'count' their votes anyway, their whole system is corrupt.
The justification for removing the vote from prisoners is to punish (yes, punish) them for their crime against society. When they can live in our society and respect our laws, then they can be allowed to vote. Please don't think that I'm against rehabilitation (and in most cases, education), both elements must be used in tandem to 'encourage' criminals to become contributing members of society.

Posted by: beancounter | 2006-01-16 10:07:24 AM


Why is taking away the right to vote an appropriate punishment? There are unlimited ways we can punish someone, why is this one better than all of those others?

Do you really believe that most prisoners would be really upset if they didn't have the right to vote? Most have probably never voted before in their lives, and so it wouldn't even register with them. I can think of a lot more direct ways to punish inmates that would resonate with them more clearly than denying them the right to vote (give them no bedding, give them no tv, give them no exercise, give them crappy food, etc.).

Now, consider, a prisoner who is actively attempting to better himself and reintegrate with society. A prisoner who is actively taking an interest in the policies of the government and how those policies affect himself and other citizens. It is THAT prisoner that you end up punishing, despite the fact that this is the very type of behaviour that we should be trying to encourage, not discourage. Is this really the best form of punishment?

So again, how is taking away the right to vote a better and more appropriate punishment than the millions of other punishments we could impose?

Posted by: bob | 2006-01-16 10:18:01 AM

And do you really believe that it is ok to deny someone the right to vote just because "you cannot trust the election process to accurately 'count' their votes anyway"?

You don't think that there is something symbolically important about the action of voting -- regardless the final results of the election?

I think if you ask any of those imprisioned political prisoners they would all tell you that they recognize their vote would be meaningless in terms of the overall result (because of the corruption, etc.), but that they would give anything to vote anyway.

Posted by: bob | 2006-01-16 10:28:23 AM

I'm not in favour of physical forms of punishment, including no bedding, exercise etc.
What I feel is accomplished by removing the RIGHT to vote is to send a message that criminals are a type of 'second class citizen' without the full rights of a law abiding citizen. I think they should 'earn' back their rights by doing their pennance, jail time being the best idea we can come up with. I would love for all criminals to be better educated and involved in living on the right side of the law, but those who make a choice not to cannot have all the rights as those of us that do.
The prisoner you speak of that attempts to better himself, etc, of course should vote...after he's done his sentence. Please remember, the crimes that resulted in these people's incarceration infringed on the rights of other Canadians--the law abiding ones!

Posted by: beancounter | 2006-01-16 10:33:15 AM

Bob Bob Bob; These guys have broken the rules; have been judged by a group of their peers hence given up their right to certain freedoms; of which voting certainly has to be one of them. If you need a reason look at the partisan lines they have drawn in this particular election; the criminals keeping the criminals in power; how ironic; perhaps that's the kind of country you want to live in; and have been living in but there are many (as evidenced) by this blog that do not share your views and want real change.

Posted by: Richard | 2006-01-16 10:41:10 AM

You still have not provided any reasons why taking away the right to vote can be considered a more effective punishment than taking away other types of rights.

Do you really believe that it is effective as a form of punishment -- that it doesn't have the potential, in fact, to be counter-productive by turning prisoners off from attempting to participate? Where is the incentive to even learn about the political system if you have no opportunity to engage with it.

Do you really think that denying the vote lets prisoners know they are "second-class citizens" any more than locking them away already does? Really?

Prisoners are already denied numerous rights that the rest of us have (movement, association, etc.). But how is taking away THIS PARTICULAR RIGHT a more effective punishment than taking away other rights.

Bottom line is that it is a punishment that only ends up hurting the kind of prisoner we should be trying to encourage - and so ultimately reducing the number of such prisoners. That, to me, seems like the very definition of an ineffective punishment.

Posted by: bob | 2006-01-16 10:42:37 AM

I just don't think that a person who breaks the law should have the opportunity to have a choice in the people who make the laws...

Posted by: beancounter | 2006-01-16 10:47:45 AM

Your right Bob, let them all out, give them a government credit card; along with a letter explaining to them how sorry we are for having caused them any inconvenience and having the nerve to take away their rights. Us big mean people! How dare us in a "civilized" society. We wouldn't want to do anything that may be counter productive.

Posted by: Richard | 2006-01-16 10:53:49 AM


Again, a very nice justification in our own country (for the most part), but it is the very same justification that is used by "people who make the laws" in various countries around the world to silence people who would challenge such laws.


Posted by: bob | 2006-01-16 10:54:32 AM

I'm sorry Richard, perhaps you like counter-productive, wasteful programs. Sounds like you should be voting Liberal. I'm also a tad suprised that someone who is, presumably, a conservative would be so cavalier about the goverment taking away someone's rights ("the nerve").

As I said above, I'm not opposed to prison, and I support tougher sentences and tougher parole, so you are going to have to find a better argument than that one.

Posted by: bob | 2006-01-16 10:58:12 AM

I wouldn't presume to debate an obviously superior intellect Bob; A simple Western boy like me knows when he has run into a product of the left; I have always marveled at the party and people who stand for freedom and liberty; and of course free speech; as long as it agrees with theirs; if it doesn't you are branded any name that suits the topic; and if that doesn't work then simply pass a law making their way the right way. Vote Liberal; that's a good one Bob. Your moral smugness shows you for what you really are. Perhaps you won't be so smug on the 24th.

Posted by: Richard | 2006-01-16 11:25:39 AM

Again, nice argument Richard: "you vote for the left (which, by the way, you are wrong about - I'm a CPC voter and always have been) so you must be wrong."

How is that argument working out for you against Coyne, who is hardly "a product of the left"?

In any case, I guess this discussion is finished. I'd like to thank beancounter for at least having the conviction to present some actual ideas and arguments, rather than simply unfounded accusations, ad hominum attacks, and hackery.

Sadly, the latter is far too common around here.

Posted by: Bob | 2006-01-16 12:46:33 PM

No one can convince Bob! So, according to Bob, the discussion is finished.

Bob, don't you think that catching someone doing wrong is more than enough punishment since an arumentarian may present the guff that prison is counter-productive by damaging the self-esteem of a disenfranchised, underpriviledged troublemaker? But since right and wrong seems to provide you with such a challenge, why don't you leave those bigger questions to the many here who have no problems reckoning an answer?

Posted by: wharold | 2006-01-17 2:16:30 AM


I would agree that perhaps the removal of a prisoners right to vote is undemocratic and as punishment goes probably a waste of time. Perhaps the prisoners overall treatment /rehabilitation is the issue that is upsetting people here. When I see these felons living a better life then a majority of the poor in Canada, it is very disturbing. I think rights and punishment can be mutually exclusive. Prisoners should enjoy all of the same constitutional rights as non-criminals, but having said that, they must also face grievous sanctioned consequences for their criminality. As I stated earlier I am not against rehabilitation but rehabilitation without simultaneously applying punishment (I do not consider straight incarceration, TV, smokes, drugs, tattoos, etc as punishment) makes rehabilitation worthless. Criminals need to understand the cause and effect relationship of their actions, but with the present system I don’t believe that is happening.

Posted by: missing link | 2006-01-17 11:57:40 PM

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