What a remarkable 24 hours.
Not long after Toronto mayor Rob Ford admitted Tuesday that he has smoked crack during his tenure as mayor, Ford's political allies in the Conservative government in Ottawa surfaced to express compassion for a man who appears to be battling some personal demons.
"Schadenfreude can be so incredibly ugly. Particularly in the context of the disease of addiction," Industry Minister James Moore tweeted.
Justice Minister Peter MacKay also weighed in with soft gloves. "It’s certainly a sad day for the city of Toronto and I’m the Attorney-General of Canada, I’m the Justice Minister, you know where I stand on the use of illegal drugs. As a human being, I think that the mayor of Toronto needs to get help," MacKay told reporters.
This sounds like thoughtful consideration — and that's a good thing. Too bad the Conservative government — of which Moore and MacKay are senior members — continues to take the opposite approach with its own crime agenda and drug strategy, tossing aside facts and evidence.
The federal government's so-called "tough on crime" agenda, touted recently in the Throne Speech, is all about punishment, with no consideration given to prevention and treatment. It's about building prisons and more double bunking, not rehabilitation. There's no thought to deal with chronic issues that often lead to crime, including mental illness and addiction. There's no thought to systemic discrimination.
That's why we've seen a legislative agenda that includes things such as mandatory minimum sentences, over the objections of judges and social policy experts. Even the U.S. is pulling back on mandatory minimums in certain drug cases.
If there's one legislative commitment that embodies this dogmatic approach, it's the promise to re-introduce a bill that would make it more difficult for those deemed not criminally responsible for violent crimes because of mental illness to be released.
The Conservative government's position on harm reduction (against) and special access programs for heroin addicts (against) also speaks to this simplistic approach and harsh instinct.
We didn't see any of this from Conservative ministers this week during the Ford meltdown. If they were going to be consistent, we would have heard the same conservative talking points used by Ford himself back in 2005, when he spoke to the CBC for a special segment on crack and harm reduction.
Photo: secdef. Used under a Creative Commons BY 2.0 licence.