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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

St. Albert gets $450,000 for “safety initiatives,” highlighting need for law-and-order back-to-basics strategy in Alberta

In one of the most important essays in the libertarian cannon, “Vices Are Not Crimes,” American philosopher Lysander Spooner wrote:

Vices are those acts by which a man harms himself or his property.

Crimes are those acts by which one man harms the person or property of another.

Vices are simply the errors which a man makes in his search after his own happiness. Unlike crimes, they imply no malice toward others, and no interference with their persons or property.

In vices, the very essence of crime -- that is, the design to injure the person or property of another -- is wanting.

It is a maxim of the law that there can be no crime without a criminal intent; that is, without the intent to invade the person or property of another. But no one ever practises a vice with any such criminal intent. He practises his vice for his own happiness solely, and not from any malice toward others.

Unless this clear distinction between vices and crimes be made and recognized by the laws, there can be on earth no such thing as individual right, liberty, or property; no such things as the right of one man to the control of his own person and property, and the corresponding and coequal rights of another man to the control of his own person and property.

For a government to declare a vice to be a crime, and to punish it as such, is an attempt to falsify the very nature of things. It is as absurd as it would be to declare truth to be falsehood, or falsehood truth.

Unless this distinction between vice and crime is understood, the much-touted conservative law-and-order agenda is in fact an agenda for lawlessness and injustice.

It is almost universally accepted that crime must match Spooner’s definition in order to be just, and that unjust laws can and should be rightly ignored and resisted. (How many people today would support the Runaway Slave Act, racial segregation in the South or sumptuary laws like the Jewish badge?) This is the moral foundation for civil disobedience, which is responsible for so much social progress. In his essay “Civil Disobedience: Resistance to Civil Government” published in 1849, Henry David Thoreau wrote “[i]t is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right.”

Although the principle that a crime must be more than an arbitrary prohibition on undesirable behavior is almost universally accepted, public fear and political power lust drive an unjust law-and-order agenda in a climate of mass cognitive dissonance. In short, we’re willing to ignore the criminalization of peaceful behavior if 1) we don’t engage in that behavior, 2) it makes us feel safer or 3) it enhances the political power of an organization with which we belong or support.

This preamble is my segue into news today that the Alberta government intends to spends $450,000 over the next three years on a crime reduction project in St. Alberta. The city’s Neighbourhood Development Team (NDT) project is receiving the money through the province’s $60 million Safe Communities Innovation Fund (SCIF) to address “crime and social disorder” in the city.

“Providing safe and secure communities is a priority for this government,” said Municipal Affairs Minister Ray Danyluk. “St. Albert’s project is an exceptional example of a strategic community-police partnership that encourages citizens to become actively involved in addressing local issues to help make their communities and neighbourhoods safer.”

Protecting persons and property from interference is the raison d’être of libertarians, putting us squarely in the law-and-order camp. But since so much law runs counter to this purpose, it’s unnerving to hear conservative politicians talk of making law enforcement a priority. For some conservatives, there are never enough laws, cops and prisons – and crime, however low, is always too high. The war on drugs goes a long way to satisfy this impulse to over-police society, but so does extending the scope of what the police do to activities not directly related to enforcing the law.

The NDT project, in question, for instance, will “address individual, family, peer group, and community factors, including: problem solving and coping skills, family connection, and support services in the community. Ultimately, the project’s activities will build safer communities by creating stronger bonds between neighbours.”

A $60 million government fund to foster “problem solving and coping skills” is a good example of the misallocation of policing resources away from directly protecting persons and property from interference.

One of the consequences of an increasing broad policing mandate is the weakening of civil society. So instead of “creating stronger bonds between neighbours,” as the Alberta government claims, over-reaching government weakens those bonds and erodes the notion of personal responsibility and community.

St. Albert Mayor Nolan Crouse is, of course, happy to take the money:

“Safety is a priority for our community, one that is shared by council, city administration and our residents,” said Crouse. “We are extremely excited to receive these funds, which will certainly enhance our community’s safety initiatives.”

Instead of pouring money into ambiguous “safety initiatives” that sound more like social work than policing, Alberta needs a back-to-basics law enforcement strategy, and for this Spooner’s “Vices Are Not Crimes” would be an ideal handbook.

Posted by Matthew Johnston

Posted by westernstandard on July 14, 2009 | Permalink


Very good article Matthew. It is about time someone distinguished social conservatives from libertarians. I thought I was among the minority.

I do have one question. To which political party can one address these concers? The Libertarian Party has taken taken social conservatives under its wings and are sacrificing principle for pragmatics. The only option I have now is going to the polling station and officially obstaining my vote.

Posted by: Doug Gilchrist | 2009-07-14 2:44:54 AM

Very well put Matthew, unfortunately for Canadians as long as Harper and his theo-Cons are in power vices will be considered "high" crimes. The other parties aren't much better, every single Liberal MP voted for c-15, and if it weren't for the senate, we would have mandaTORY minimums in force right now for cannabis "crimes".

I'd vote Libertarian but we don't even have a Libertarian candidate running here, and even if we did the Libertarians don't ever have a seat to get their voice heard. For me this leaves the NDP, and while I don't agree with a lot of their policies, they did vote against c-15 and favour ending the drug war. For me this is enough to at least give them a chance to speak for me in parliament. They can't do any worse than the interchangeable Conservatives and Liberals we always get.
I'm confident that if they start implementing a too-socialist agenda we can boot them back out before they can do any real damage.
Making vices crimes only breeds disrespect for the law, the police , and the courts. Its high time that the law concentrated on REAL criminals and left the rest of us alone to live our lives how we see fit.

Posted by: DrGreenthumb | 2009-07-14 9:08:13 AM

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