Rules & the law are ‘simply a suggestion.’

…….political malpractice at work

Back in the 1970s, this writer visited a close friend who was on a multi-year corporate assignment in Montreal. He headquartered in a downtown high-rise and made the most of exploring the city in his spare time.

On this visit and on a pleasant Sunday, we went for a mid-morning drive to see Old Montreal. The streets were quiet, talk was easy and casual, but a distraction all the same. As we coasted down a hill on a side street, my friend realized we were at an intersection with a red stop light against us.

His reflexes kicked in, he applied the brakes, there was a short skid, and we drifted slowly through the intersection when he lifted his foot off the pedal. Thankfully there was no other traffic in any direction….except for a police cruiser parked at the curb across the street facing us. We continued slowly down the hill as he kept checking the rear-view mirror. The police car didn’t move.

A few moments later, he said quietly, “You must remember that in Montreal, red lights are simply a suggestion.”

Correctional Service of Canada operations reminds me of that morning drive, as does Ontario’s Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, and no doubt, similarities can be made with the way other provincial prison industries are run. Suggestions. That’s what policy, procedure and even the law so often seems to be.


Then too, there’s a television moment from just over twenty years ago that can remind us of how our jails and prisons are managed.

The original “Murphy Brown”, the comic series now revived for today’s audience, ran from 1988 to 1998. For 24 episodes from 1994 to 1997, Garry Marshall appeared in the character role of Stan Lansing, the lovable, loud, cantankerous, mico-managing network president.

In a short scene from one show, ‘Stan’ is pacing around his desk, telephone in hand, and agitated in the midst of an animated conversation with the producer of one of the programs his network is running. They’re arguing back and forth about the quality of the product. Frustrated, and intent on bringing the call to a close, ‘Stan’ slams down the receiver with a final judgment on the subject, “It would be better if it didn’t stink!”


There are no secrets here. Activists, reformers, progressives, and the Office of the Correctional Investigator in the case of Canada’s federal prison industry, stream observations, recommendations, criticisms, pleas, and initiate court actions to move the clock towards an environment of accountability and positive outcomes.

Results are negligible at best even with a sustained determination to effect change, but worse, the intransigence is defended and supported by the very elected bodies who are charged by the people to work for the betterment of society.

Next: Another look at Ontario’s jails before we tackle what the feds are doing.


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