MISC takes aim at crime and the law

Posted on Thursday, March 1, 2012

Will Straw, new MISC Director, says the idea for this year's conference theme stems partly from his curiosity for all things crime-related. / Photo: Owen Egan

Annual conference to focus on issues of crime and justice

By Cynthia Lee

As a young boy, growing up in Northern Manitoba, Will Straw’s fascination with the struggle between good and evil was sparked by listening to old radio serials like Superman and Gang Busters. Later, he developed a fondness for Sherlock Holmes books he picked up at the local library. Whatever the form, his curiosity for all things crime-related took root and grew into a lifelong interest.

Now, as the new Director at the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada (MISC), Straw has managed to find a way to keep this interest front and centre by dedicating this year’s MISC conference to the topic Crime and the Law: The Future of Justice in Canada.

“Crime and justice is the theme this year due to certain expectations that our conferences deal with big issues of big pubic concern,” says Straw. “With the government moving ahead with its massive proposed omnibus law and order crime bill, Bill C-10, it seemed appropriate. As well, as the new Director, it allows me to open the discussion on an area that I am very interested in, particularly, crime and the media.”

The Tory omnibus crime bill has stirred up its fair share of controversy, with critics saying it too closely resembles initiatives that governments in the United States put forth 20 years ago, such as implementing mandatory sentencing, building more prisons, and essentially increasing the use of the prison system as a way to combat crime.

The consequences of the crime bill for Canadians will serve as a springboard for discussion at the Conference. “This bill will change the justice system on many levels. From what happens in courtrooms to sentencing and impact what will happen in prisons, to lengths of incarcerations, to name a few,” says Straw. “Even the idea of mandatory sentencing restricts the ability of judges to be lenient and to customize sentences based on specifics of character, or crime.”

But the conference won’t centre solely on public policy concerns. Straw is also looking forward to the discussions on crime and media. He says that while crime levels are on the decrease across Canada, our interest – some would say infatuation – with all things corrupt is on the increase.

“Crime fiction is the only kind of fiction that is read across social and gender lines. Crime on television is among the most popular genres, crime is everywhere – it’s how we amuse ourselves,” he says. “If you landed here from outer space and tuned into American TV, you’d think we were surrounded by serial killers. But that’s just not the case, we live in one of the safest times in history.”

The Conference will bring together academics and practitioners to address a variety of questions concerning crime and justice in Canada. Leading figures from different fields will tackle a range of issues including The Hon. Rob Nicholson, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada giving the keynote address by video; Natalie Des Rosiers, General Counsel of Canadian Civil Liberties; Chief Dale McFee, President of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police; Alex Hundert, G20 Toronto activist; and Howard Sapers, Correctional Investigator of Canada, to name a few.

Panels and plenary sessions will cover a range of topics including, “Who Polices the Police?” which will discuss ‘best practices’ in police oversight and the ideal relationship between police forces and political institutions; “Crime Reporting” to examine the ways in which crime reporters’ professions have changed in recent years and the impact of entertainment media (film, television) on shaping media audiences’ expectations about crime reporting; and a panel titled “The Justice We Need” which will address the key challenges facing Canada in the areas of justice and policing in the future and how to best achieve this outcome.

When asked why crime has a huge allure to the general public, Straw smiles.“Crime is at heart of popular culture and at the heart of many moral dilemmas,” he says.

“Crime fascinates because it moves between rich and poor, men and women, and so on. It feeds into public debates and crystallizes so many social issues and puts them on the agenda. Crime is something that always draws them all in.”

 Crime and the Law: The Future of Justice in Canada; March 15-16 at the Faculty Club. For more info go to www.mcgill.ca/misc/conferences


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