Conservatives Play Ostrich with Evidence

Last month the Conservative government cut the Justice Department's research budget by 1.2 million dollars.

It is sometimes said that justice is blind - but justice policy should not be.

The research cuts came as no great surprise to those who have followed the government's criminal justice agenda.

Quite simply - the government's position on criminal justice is not supported by criminological or sociological evidence. 

This very point was made crystal clear by the government's own justifications for the research cuts (obtained by the Globe and Mail). 

According to the internal government report, the Justice Department's research budget was slashed because its findings “may run contrary to government direction” and "at times left the impression that research is undermining government decisions."

The same internal report notes that "there have been examples of [research] that was not aligned with government or departmental priorities."

It is somewhat shocking the there has been so little public outcry over the government's willful blindness to evidence that undermines its policy goals.

This is dishonest politics of the worst kind - a dishonestly and ignorance that puts public safety at risk.

Last week Liberal Justice critic Sean Casey tabled a series of questions designed to hold the government to account.  Amongst other questions Casey asks:

With regard to research at the Department of Justice:
(a) broken down by year for each of the last ten years, what studies were undertaken by the Department, and at what cost;
(c) of the studies in (a) which, if any, have not been made public;
(f) what policies or directives account for changes in funding allocated or spent at the Department;
(h) with regard to recent research cuts that the Minister has said were carried out “to ensure that we bring value to hard-earned taxpayers’ dollars”, how is value defined at the Department in the context of research and study;
(i) what reports or studies has the Minister determined to be wasteful and according to what criteria;
(k) what reports or studies has the Minister determined do not “bring value to hard-earned taxpayers dollars” and how so;
(m) with respect to the statement of the Minister that “research is undertaken to obtain information to support priorities of government,” how are the priorities of government identified and what are they;
(n) what studies have been undertaken in the past five years to support the priorities of government;
(o) have any studies been undertaken that do not support the priorities of government and, if so, what are these;
(p) what studies or research proposals have not been proceeded with at Justice because they do not support the priorities of government;
(q) who determines that a study or proposal does not support the priorities of government, and according to what criteria;
(v) in the past five years, has the government not proceeded with any research or study because it believed the results would be unfavourable;
(w) in the past five years, has the government not re-released a study because its results were unfavourable or otherwise counter to advancing the government’s priorities; 
(aa) how many research studies or projects were already underway that were terminated as a result of the decision to cut the department research budget;
(bb) what were the subject matters of research that was affected as a result of the cuts within the department;
(ddd) how many specific research proposals or studies has the Minister not proceeded with in the past five years, what were the proposed topics of study, and why were these not proceeded with; and how many specific research proposals or studies has the Department not proceeded with in the past five years, what were the proposed topics of study, and why were these not proceeded with;

The government has 45 days to respond to Mr. Casey's questions

The public deserves to know why the government is ignoring evidence that undermines its purported policy goals.

This is not about politics - quite the opposite - this is about evidence-based policy. 

It is only when legislation is based on legitimate evidence that there can be any confidence that the law will accomplish its goals.

Perhaps the Conservatives are not really concerned with achieving their criminal justice goals (i.e. keeping the public safe).  They have ignored evidence on drug policy, minimum sentences, and child protection - to name a few (resulting in multiple laws being struck down as unconstitutional). 

Perhaps the Conservatives are just playing a dangerous game of partisan politics.

At the very least - the Department of Justice cuts make clear that the Conservatives seem content to play the willfully blind ostrich.  

Mr. Casey should be commended for taking steps to separate the ostrich's head from the sand.