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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Stockwell Day, electronic ankle bracelets and the war on drugs

Gps_device When Minister of Public Safety Stockwell Day announced this week that the federal government is launching a pilot program in September to electronically monitor federal offenders, I didn’t know quite what to think.

On the one hand, they are criminals. On the other hand, GPS ankle bracelets sound Orwellian.

I immediately asked the BC Civil Liberties Association for their perspective. I was told they have “no comment at this time” and to “try back in couple of months.”

Fair enough, I guess. They want to do their research and watch how the program develops.

Not to be deterred, I asked Dennis Young, the Leader of Libertarian Party, for a quote.

Young said “I don’t have a problem using technology to keep track of criminals. I would only insist that the program be restricted to dangerous, violent offenders. Who do the Conservatives plan to monitor once the pilot is done? Do we know the scope of the plan for federal offenders?”

Good questions.

The program will start modesty with the tagging of 30 parolees in Ontario. If any of the subjects violate their curfews or go places they are not supposed to go, the GPS ankle bracelets will alert the authorities.

AHN reported that “Day said the 30 prisoners would include a mixture of sexual and serious offenders.” Not your run-of-the-mill criminals.

The Nova Scotia provincial government has been using electronic monitoring ankle bracelets since 2006 and, according to a Canadian Press story, only about “55 people on conditional sentence release are wearing the ankle bracelets out of about 500 or so former inmates charged with everything from sexual offences to fraud.”

So it looks like the ankle bracelet monitoring program has been used with some restraint so far.

So should civil libertarians be concerned?


I spoke to the operations director Mike Smithson with Law Enforcement Against Prohibition this morning who argued, speaking primarily about the US situation, that the electronic monitoring of federal offenders may be an unintended consequence of the war on drugs. As we fill our prisons with drug offenders, law enforcement is forced to come up with ways to monitor violent criminals they can’t afford to house. The electronic ankle bracelet is a good solution to the problem of overcrowded prisons, but does it allow politicians and law enforcement to ignore a bigger problem -- the failure of drug prohibition?

Posted by Matthew Johnston on August 13, 2008 in Crime | Permalink


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I first used GPS almost 20 years ago. At that time the receivers cost about $80,000 each. I've used it regularly ever since for surveying. I've used almost every type of receiver. Let me clear up some misconceptions.

GPS doesn't work indoors, on a bus, in the mall, on a plane, on a train, in a cave, in a dogpile, under a tree, under water, in the pocket of your leather pants, under your tinfoil hat, in the trunk of a car, or in your bed. The only glimpse they'll get is when the guy looks out the window.

This form of tracking is so unreliable, it's not worth talking about. The only way to keep track is to wait for the signal to reappear once it's lost. It would be easier to hire someone to watch the guy 24/7.

Posted by: dp | 2008-08-13 11:38:57 AM

Why not tie these criminal ankle bracelets into one way transmitters to cell phone towers randomly a dozen times per day or so triangulate the guy's position?

Or are we not there yet tech wise?


Posted by: epsilon | 2008-08-13 11:47:15 AM

every single cell phone in the US is required to have AGPS to provided e-911 services, this was an FCC mandate in 2001 which was required by 2005. All cell users in the US can be tracked through their handsets within 6-7 mile radius. There are internal settings to block the GPS reading in the phone itself, however if necessary the internal privacy settings can be overridden. DP is correct when the cell signal is lost..so is the transmission.

Posted by: maija | 2008-08-13 12:00:34 PM

oops- premature post...
the technology is there however any interference will block the transmission and really just make the monitoring device useless unless the criminals are not allowed in any buildings, basements, behind anything steel......

Posted by: maija | 2008-08-13 12:05:29 PM

The electronic angle bracelet is a good solution to the problem of overcrowded prisons, but does it allow politicians and law enforcement to ignore a bigger problem -- the failure of drug prohibition?

Posted by Matthew Johnston on August 13, 2008

Matthew, police will use whatever tools will make their lives easier, which is why they seem to support the gun registry. It may not work well overall, or may not be worth it, but when they are about to enter into a demestic dispute, they will find it very easy to rely on the registry.

In a simliar way, I would expect police to support the GPS ankle bracelets. Like the gun registry, I doubt this will make our streets much safer. It will likely only result in a more intrusive, and lazy state.

We would save more lives banning swimming pools than guns. We would make our streets safer by making more room in jail, allowing us to keep dangerous people in them longer.

Posted by: TM | 2008-08-13 12:15:56 PM

TM: Police do not "rely" on the gun registry, because they know it is unreliable. Nor should they ever go into a dispute on the assumption that no guns are present. They don't know who might be there. It is sloppy policing to rely on the gun registry -- and might have contributed to the death of Cst Tessier in Quebec (if memory serves -- the guy who was recently acquitted of murder).

Posted by: Grant Brown | 2008-08-13 1:44:39 PM

Grant, good point. I still like the swimming pool comparison to gun control though. The next time I hear someone saying "if even one life is saved it is worth it" I'm going to suggest banning swimming pools if the goal is the save the most lives.

Posted by: TM | 2008-08-13 1:53:41 PM

If they're talking about dangerous criminals and sexual perverts who prey on our children it's a perfect use for that type of technology.

When the US Justice system used one on a person like Martha Stewart, that's what I'd call abuse of judicial power and inane.

The Conservatives are talking about the worst criminals or people who pose a threat to our Country. I feel confident they'll do it right.

Posted by: Liz J | 2008-08-13 3:27:53 PM

Liz J

You're right about Martha's hobble. I don't know who she offended, but they sure overreacted.

Your confidence that they'll do it right is a little undeserved though. The fact that it doesn't actually work sort of cancels out any good intentions.

If I had one of those units, I'd just start walking in one direction, then wrap tinfoil around the receiver and run in the other direction. I'd go straight to Home Depot, and buy a superduty bolt cutter. I'd take off the tin foil, and toss the device onto the roof of a semi, at a stoplight. Adios.

Posted by: dp | 2008-08-13 3:41:19 PM

Well dp, you'd certainly be compounding your problems. Anyone freed with an ankle bracelet would lose that freedom for certain when caught. It wouldn't be a wise move. Plus, when people are fitted with such a device they're also restricted as to where they might travel and for how long, In other words, they're on a short leash.

Posted by: Liz J | 2008-08-13 4:57:41 PM

dp - Martha Stewart offended a very ambitious prosecutor named Eliot Spitzer.


Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2008-08-13 5:16:11 PM

Liz J: I think you fail to understand the nature of the state. It is a one way ratchet.

Remember how photo radar would only be used in school zones?

Remember how the creeping smoking bans went? Now, were looking at no smoking in cars or in your own house when YOUR kids are present. This is despite the American Medical Association (AMA) saying that there is no conclusive evidence that second hand smoke has any ill effects.

There are countless more examples, but let's not turn into sheeple because honest Steve is in charge. Remember his lie to the income trust companies? Remember how he voted FOR gun control?

The ankle bracelets will be abused by Leviathan. The one way ratchet. Don't be gullible.

Posted by: attitude | 2008-08-13 6:06:26 PM

It's a ridiculous idea that depends on violent criminals that are likely to re-offend being released. It's like wearing a helmet to cross the street because you insist on jaywalking rather than using a crosswalk.

I like attitude's point. The purpose is to introduce a new control level, how it's used can be adjusted in the future by anyone with a "mandate".

Posted by: Ray K. | 2008-08-13 7:15:23 PM

And the most memorable of only the latest of rememberings--the terrorist laws, where THEY said and implored that they would never EVER be used except in a legitimate terrorist investigation. Of course, the very first time they used them, was on a 65 yr old holocaust denier.

Posted by: reg dunlop | 2008-08-13 8:24:58 PM

That's another valid point Ray K. The bracelet stops nothing.

Posted by: attitude | 2008-08-13 8:28:54 PM

Good grief here we go with slippery slop again. The bracelet will let law enforcement know where deviant sex offenders and such are 24/7/
Enough of this crap that they will use these bracelets on anyone they choose.
If I had a child and I knew a violent sex offender lived near by you darn right I would want the terd wearing a braclet.
Will it stop! him or her from re-offending maybe or maybe not.
It will allow tho for police to intervene much quicker if needed. Thats the point and until libertarian types have a better idea? well too bad.

good to go

Posted by: Merle | 2008-08-13 9:32:12 PM

Merle, you're dreaming. Do you really think someone's watching a monitor 24/7? It's about as realistic as believing there's a cop just around every corner.

If you weren't looking, I'll run this by you again. GPS only works with a clear view of the sky(satellites). With every obstruction being a potential dead spot, how do they keep constant surveillance? These devices are a gimmick to make us feel secure.

Posted by: dp | 2008-08-13 9:52:50 PM

dp – I hate to disagree with you on this issue but I think this program is more than a gimmick. GPS technology in vehicles seems to work brilliantly. Also, this program has been in place since 2006 in Nova Scotia and they are claiming success.

Hasn’t the technology improved enough to make this program effective, notwithstanding moral objections or larger questions about policing philosophies and priorities?

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2008-08-13 10:27:12 PM

Hey Merle, you know what else will will "let law enforcement know where deviant sex offenders and such are 24/7"? A locked door. What problem is the bracelet solving?

Posted by: Ray K. | 2008-08-13 10:35:19 PM

What I would love to see is all those neocons wearing ankle bracelets.

Posted by: Marc | 2008-08-13 10:58:22 PM

If it comes to an ankle device or nothing when the still dangerous criminals walk after serving time, they may not be perfect but worth a try.

It's difficult to understand why so many go to bat against anything that might interfere with a criminal's freedom.

Posted by: Liz J | 2008-08-14 5:02:32 AM


Please define neocon.

Would it be a person whose decisions are made by using his brain ... as in Winston Churchill's ‘if you're not a socialist when you're 20, you don't have a heart. If you're still a socialist at 40, you don't have a brain?'

I'm guessing it would be a ‘classic liberal.'

Anarchists and libertarians are a different breed whose downfall falls in the realm of personal responsibility.

Posted by: set you free | 2008-08-14 10:17:27 AM

set you free -- "personal responsibility" is demanded in the absence of the welfare state. It's a central tenet of libertarianism.

The state de-risks behaviour and encourages consequence-free license that would never exist is a truly free society.

Freedom and cultural conservatism go hand in hand.

If you read “What It Means to be a Libertarian” by cultural conservative Charles Murray, I’ll read any book you recommend.


Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2008-08-14 10:34:14 AM


I have no dispute with conservative libertarian thought and minimal intrusion of the state into our personal lives.

On this topic, I doubt that casual users would be monitored.

Posted by: set you free | 2008-08-14 10:43:57 AM

MJ- The system is perfect for cars. They do spend most of their time outdoors. I know of a couple of companies that require them on all company vehicles. Mullen trucking has had a tracking system on their trucks for about 15 years. The technology is just great, and that's why they think it can't go wrong. I think a receiver on someone's ankle is a bit harder to keep track of than a receiver on the roof of a vehicle. All you have to do is put your hand over it and presto, you're invisible.

Posted by: dp | 2008-08-14 10:54:18 AM

"Please define neocon"

Neo-conservatism is a doctrine and its definition can easily be found on the net.

First of all, if "using your brain" consists of following blindly a doctrine, you've got a problem and your pen name is, as always, the funniest thing on this blog.

If your question was to know why I would like to see neocons wearing ankle bracelets in a near future, well, that's because they are the scum of the Earth. How come I came to this conclusion ? Because, unlike you sir, I'm able to think outside the box.
Sorry to tell but, I'm the real free spirit and you're the sucker.
Starting from there, continuing to chat with you on the subject would be useless.

Posted by: Marc | 2008-08-14 11:26:42 AM


How does your hatred of people you do not even know make you superior?

Can you control anybody? Does anybody really control you?

Posted by: set you free | 2008-08-14 2:03:27 PM

"Can you control anybody ?"

I have no interests nor intentions to learn if I can or would be able to control anyone, anywhere.

"Does anybody really control you ?"

Did you find your pen name inna cereal box ?

"make you superior ?"

Why "superior" ?
My dislike of them would never, even closely, equals their hate towards all of us who do not espouse the doctrine. A doctrine based on superiority - one have to note.

I would never feel "superior" to anyone and I don't especially care about people outside familly and extended friends. Except maybe the fact that injustice making and imperialism really stink to my nose.

What I do hate however is the fact that a small group of very well organised people are imposing their ideologies and doctrine on the entire planet, messing with the complete principles of democracy and freedom, for the privilige of dem few "superior" evil doers.
It has nothing to do with anything seen or imagined before and they control the entire political sphere and MSM now in the west.

As showed in the last years in the US particulary, they have nothing good to bring us. Since they hijacked the power, we live inna world that's going backward, forgeting everything it have learned on his way.

You've decided to be a willing sheep Set - fine with me; but don't say I'm the hater here.

Onna Canadian level,
I trust the present CPC with issues like our security, freedom and culture like you would trust me, a common and handsome french Québécois who dosen't beleive in God nor religions, with your own daughter.


On another note,
Your vocabulary, rethoric and ways of seeing the world dosen't honour your pen name.
You should sincerly reconsider it.
I'm giving you the advise because I don't "hate" you and so others here would not de facto consider themselves as "superior" to you after reading your logic. No offence.

Posted by: Marc | 2008-08-14 3:31:14 PM

Marc, why are you using your time TRYING to debate people you obviously hate for their political views? Why not isolate yourself in Quebec among the Zealots who call themselves Separatists? You have no hope of converting anyone here to your way of thinking.

Speaking of blindly following a doctrine, what exactly would you categorize your own ideological following? Can we convince you to change your hatred for Canada and the Canadian identity?

Posted by: Liz J | 2008-08-14 3:42:35 PM

What ?
Liz, I agree with many vues debated here; especially those around freedom, liberty and also sometimes western separatism.

"You have no hope of converting anyone here to your way of thinking."

I'm sure if this would be my goal you would have seen me try by now. But that doesnt hold me from posting my vues as well. That it please you or others is the last of my concerns.

"TRYING to debate"
I least I try.
When was the last time anybody saw you make more than one or two sentence around here. You're the Harper chearleader that never say a word when they do something wrong and slap the fingers of blogers who do sometimes express some concerns.

You're the "english teacher", nothing more nothing less.

"Can we convince you to change your hatred for Canada and the Canadian identity?"

What hatred and what identity ?

Posted by: Marc | 2008-08-14 3:57:47 PM

What Country is on your Passport, Marc? Is that not part of your identity? Try getting anywhere out of the country without one.

Hatred? Well you do seem to express a fair amount of animosity in your comments. It could be you're feeling smug and blocked off in your views and merely expressing righteous indignation.
Either way, who cares?

None of our political parties are ideal, perfection is not achievable. Right now Harper is our best hope and to date he's done his job well in the circumstances, IMO.

Posted by: Liz J | 2008-08-14 5:06:34 PM

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