How’s this for a federal campaign slogan: 'Thou Shalt Not Kill'

Many voters would be happy to see a full debate about how a new Canadian government might revise policies with that ethical standard in mind.

Video still from Stop the Killing campaign, produced by United Steelworkers
Video still from Stop the Killing campaign, produced by United Steelworkers following the Westray Law, which was passed unanimously in Parliament in 2004.

Well, folks, it’s election time again in Canada, and by now, after the first TV debates and several weeks of hectic campaign appearances, at least a few things are clear as we face the prospect of Canada’s longest federal election campaign in recent history. All four major candidates are passionately in favour of the “middle class” and “ordinary working Canadians” and all are unequivocally opposed to “terrorism,” although divided on how to combat it, and about just how to define this odious entity.

The candidates were split on whether Bill C-51, with its endorsement of “all police state all the time” was a tool for fighting terrorism or a blow against the freedom and privacy rights of Canadians. (The scorecard? Harper 100-per-cent in favour of tying up Canada in an S&M-tinged C-51 Shades of Grey, Trudeau willing to sign on for the Conservative’s dungeon play party so long as they could introduce a few “safety word” amendments after the election, and Mulcair and May concerned enough about liberty to oppose the bill, although the NDP opposition was only firmed up after some rebarbative waffling.

But setting aside Canada’s Incredible Shrinking Civil Liberties for a moment, let me suggest that there are other life-and-death issues that will not be properly discussed during this campaign, and should be: “Thou shalt not kill.”

How hard is that to understand? Many voters, even those like me who do not subscribe to any religious doctrine, would be happy to see a full debate about how a new Canadian government might revise policies with that ethical standard in mind. Here are three policy areas that should be addressed:

1. Don’t kill workers

Despite the passage over a decade ago of Criminal Code amendments (The Westray Act) that make it possible to lay charges when business owners and managers are criminally negligent in their push for profit, very few prosecutions have occurred, while every year around a thousand Canadian workers die in work-related accidents or illnesses.

While enforcing the Criminal Code is a provincial responsibility there are steps the federal government should take to see the law is actually enforced. (For more background, interested readers should take a look at the compelling evidence and arguments arrayed on the Stop the Killing website maintained by the United Steelworkers).

2. Don’t kill drug users and dealers

We need a ceasefire in the war on drugs, and on the armed struggle it promotes among drug-dealers. Vancouver recorded 16 fentanyl overdoses on Aug. 9. A total of 655 deaths due to this drug have been reported between 2009 and 2014, and an estimated 47,000 Canadian deaths annually are attributed to substance abuse.

Enforcement costs are estimated at more than $2 billion a year, all in a mindless effort to reverse the lessons of history. Prohibition does not work; it nurtures the creation of violent drug cartels (whose armed struggles add more fatalities to the butcher’s bill of death created by our mindless drug laws), keeps addicts from accessing treatment, and supports a toxic culture of militarized police and expanding prisons.

Prohibition has been tried, here and elsewhere, and it always fails. We should be using the opportunity of the election campaign to discuss sane alternatives that would see all mood altering substances legal and regulated, and some of the public money we are currently wasting on drug raids and prisons spent on addiction treatment, harm reduction and public education.

3. Don’t kill foreign civilians

The current federal government, after participating in a bombing campaign over Libya that de-stabilized that country, strengthened jihadi forces there and released a massive supply of military arms into the global black market, is trying to meet or match these results in its current military adventure against ISIS. Granted, the lethal fanaticism of ISIS is a problem, but it is not entirely clear that a policy that consists of bombing runs that are guaranteed to slaughter civilians and thus recruit more supporters for the Islamists is either sane or humane.

To their credit, Elizabeth May and the Greens have staked out a clear and persuasive anti-war position and Trudeau and Mulcair each have expressed some reservations about the way the Harper government is conduction its war. But the Liberal and NDP reservations are embedded in rhetorical fist-shaking about support for some kind of military action in the Middle East.

The country needs a full debate about whether killing members of a suicide cult is a good way to discourage the cult, and about the costs of “collateral damage,” the deaths of adult civilians and children that always attend modern war.

The great American philosopher Richard Rorty said that the goal of any decent politics was to reduce unnecessary cruelty in human life. I think he was right, and on that measure, the conduct of our candidates in the current federal election has to be judged a failure. Let’s hope for improvement as we slog through the long electoral march to Oct.19, and hope that at least a few lifesaving reforms emerge from the fog of rhetoric.

Tom Sandborn lives and writes in Vancouver. He welcomes feedback and suggestions at [email protected].

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