By Henry McRandall
The Stephen Harper Conservatives and the corporate mass media have tried to make a big deal of the government’s supposed crackdown on white-collar crime. In reality, it is anything but a big deal.
The highlight of the supposed reforms is the imposition of a minimum two-year prison term on a perpetrator of a $1-BILLION fraud. Far be it from me to say so but a two-year term at a Canadian white-collar jail for a one-BILLION-dollar fraud hardly qualifies as a punishment fitting the crime.
Any crime that nets the perpetrator one BILLION dollars is most certainly a crime motivated by greed rather than need.
A number of years ago, Sunera Thobani – when she was the head of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women — received widespread condemnation for having the temerity to suggest that a single mom who steals to feed her kids should not go to jail. The corporate mass media practically devoured her alive for daring to suggest that need might be a mitigating motive in the commission of a crime.
But Professor Thobani was right and, as is very, very often the case, the corporate mass media was wrong.
Motivation and victim impact should both be very significant factors in the adjudication of a criminal charge.
A crime motivated by genuine need – real material deprivation – would, all other things being equal, be far less egregious than a crime motivated purely by greed – by the lust for material acquisition far beyond anyone’s legitimate needs.
And certainly a crime that has grievous impact on the victim is far more egregious than one that has little impact on the victim.
So, yes, the perpetrator of a one-BILLION-dollar fraud should get a very severe sentence – to be served in the general population of a pentientiary, regardless of who the victim is.
Not two years, but perhaps 20 years, sounds reasonable.
And as Professor Thobani so aptly argued, a single parent who steals to feed his or her children should not be jailed.
The minimum-wage worker with four mouths to feed who steals from a corporation or a member of the socioeconomic elite is committing far less heinous a crime than the corporation or a rich man who routine chisels the poor out of small amounts of money.
An example of this would be Canada’s prepaid long-distance calling card cartel that has routinely defrauded a wide swath of consumers for years.
Of course, that cartel’s victims are mostly poor people and immigrants and it doesn’t matter much to the Harper Conservative government or to the Michael Ignatieff Liberal opposition leader that this cartel has defrauded poor people and immigrants out of tens of millions of dollars over the past decade. The cartel’s members are white-collar criminals. If the government ever gets around to prosecuting
them – it has known about the fraud for at least four years – they will not be seeking pentientiary time for the perps.
The only time the NeoConservatives and NeoLiberals care about white-collar crime is when the victims are other corporations or other members of the socioeconomic elite.
It is high time for Canada to get very, very serious about white-collar crime. It is high time for Canada to get very, very serious about a corporate, financial elite – motivated purely by greed – that preys with impunity on those in a state of genuine need.
But the inside joke is that white-collar crime will be treated as a joke as long as Canada is governed by NeoConservatives or NeoLiberals both equally and solely committed to a dangerously right-wing corporate agenda.
The inside joke about white-collar crime
By Henry McRandall