As part of his election campaign for the October 6 Ontario provincial elections, Tim Hudak, Progressive Conservative leader, proposed mandatory labour in all prisons. The proposed work consists of menial tasks, like picking up garbage and raking leaves, that would be done for up to forty hours a week. It is intended as a punishment for those who have broken the law and as a deterrent to those considering criminal activity. This agenda is both demeaning and ineffective; it violates international labour laws and it increases the chances of recidivism.
Compulsory labour violates International Labour Agreements that Canada has signed on to. In 1957, Canada, alongside 168 other countries, ratified the Abolition of Forced Labour Convention. In Article 2 of this agreement, it is stated, “Each Member of the International Labour Organisation which ratifies this Convention undertakes to take effective measures to secure the immediate and complete abolition of forced or compulsory labour.”
China and the United States are the only countries that have ratified this agreement and still make prisoners do compulsory labour.
While one should sympathize with crime victims, we need to move away from simple revenge-oriented tactics and look at long run crime prevention.
Leah DeVellis, a PhD Candidate in sociology at Carleton University, stated in a Toronto Star article that menial tasks fail to give prisoners marketable employment skills and help to make penitentiaries a “revolving door.” DeVellis suggested that only educational, vocational, and social programming in prisons lead to lower recidivism rates. Unfortunately, Hudak’s platform does not even mention these programs.
Hudak is clearly more interested in winning the upcoming provincial election than he is in understanding the socio-economic determinants of crime. If the Ontario Provincial Conservative Party was truly serious about fighting crime, they would invest in social programs to help those that commit crimes.
While this issue may only directly affect residents of Ontario, people across the country should take note of compulsory labour. If it is introduced in Ontario, it could become a trend in Canada. If this country became one of the few to reject the 1957 Convention, it would be an embarrassment to all Canadians.
Students from Ontario should take the opportunity to reject this regressive policy in the upcoming election, and all Canadians should question these types of correctional practices.
Zach Lewsen is a Commentary and Compendium! Editor at The Daily and a U2 Political Science Student. The views expressed here are his own.
A previous version of this article incorrectly implied that Tim Hudak was running in a reelection campaign; Rather, he is running in an election campaign. The Daily regrets the error.