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rainbow ruler   :  Archive   :  1996   :  CA Judicial Apr 1996


Judicial CP - April 1996

Alberta Report/Western Report, Edmonton, 1 April 1996

Can the Reform Party survive its 'moderates'?

Hardline Art Hanger cancels his Singapore trip, even though popular opinion supports him

Calgary Reform MP Art Hanger has been attacked by left-wing politicians before, but never from within his own camp. Shortly after the 53-year-old MP was elected, he was appointed critic of immigration policy. With tremendous vigour, the former policeman assailed the government for allowing criminals and terrorists into the country. For months he was ignored as irrelevant, and labelled a racist by Liberal MPs. Mr. Hanger refused to give up, and eventually the Liberals began enforcing deportation orders.

Though criticism from the Liberal ranks is nothing new, Mr. Hanger says it was "unfortunate" when caucus colleagues called him "extremist" two weeks ago over his plan to study corporal punishment in Singapore. Jan Brown and Jim Silye complained that Mr. Hanger's desire to study the merits of caning, and the party's opposition to gun control, has earned Reformers an extremist image. With a by-election pending, party executives seemed to agree. They pressured Mr. Hanger last week to cancel his journey to Singapore.

Throughout the controversy, Mr. Hanger has been portrayed as a liability for Reform. In fact, however, the ex-cop could be one of Reform's biggest assets in the next election. His constituents in Calgary Northeast have told him to "stay the course," he says, and he intends to do just that. By late last week, the parliamentarian had put the caning controversy behind him and was once again focused on broader reforms to the justice system.

"Art Hanger almost single-handedly exposed the immigration scam, and brought down [then-Immigration Minister Sergio] Marchi," observes Scott Newark, general counsel of the Canadian Police Association. In recognition of his accomplished performance, Mr. Hanger was bumped up last summer to a more prominent role in the party as a lead spokesman on law and order.

With 22 years experience as a lawman, Mr. Hanger is well acquainted with the failures of Canada's justice system. A married father of three children, he joined the Calgary Police Service in 1971, spent nine years in uniform, moved on to investigate general and major crimes, including kidnapping and extortion, and finished his career as a commercial crime detective. In 1992 he was awarded a medal for exemplary service.

"I investigated some pretty atrocious crimes and saw first-hand how victims were affected," says Mr. Hanger. "I witnessed a growing number of kids leave a wake of terror and injury behind them. A lot of these kids become adult offenders. If we put these young people on a different path with firm action at the beginning, they could become productive members of society. I haven't seen that happening under 30 years of policies that the Liberals created and seem determined to keep."

Mr. Hanger says his desire to visit Singapore was an extension of his commitment to reforming corrections. "I wanted to learn from people who live there, is the government so autocratic that it invokes fear? Is it too restrictive? I've already talked to some former residents and they said it felt safe to live there." The affluent city-state had a theft rate of 973 incidents per 100,000 population in 1986, compared to 5,059 in Canada. Murder rates in the two countries are nearly identical.

Singapore's use of corporal punishment received international media coverage in 1994 when a young American was lashed across the buttocks with a wet rattan cane for committing acts of vandalism. Corporal punishment was last used in Canada in 1962. "I suspect flogging straightens up behaviour by jolting a criminal into reality," says Mr. Hanger, who planned to self-finance his research mission. "Compare it to our system, which provides no deterrence and is little more than a revolving door.

"Is corporal punishment extreme?" he asks. "I don't think so. Does corporal punishment work, and is it morally acceptable? At the very least, these issues are worthy of debate. Canadians have said they want punishment back in the system." Mr. Hanger believes "a reasoned debate" on corporal punishment is possible -- as opposed to the knee-jerk reactions of Ms. Brown and Mr. Silye. "But as I learned with immigration, it takes time to bring the issue into focus."

Time is something Reform does not have, he admits. Since a federal election may be only months away, Mr. Hanger will focus on his broader platform: Operation Crime Strike, which includes a discussion paper on the merits of "truth-in-sentencing" (no parole or early release for violent crimes), two violent strikes to draw life imprisonment with no parole, and "prison time will be hard time."

Corporal punishment is not included in Reform policy. Nor will the membership vote on whether to include it in the Blue Book without lengthy debate. Ms. Brown has been criticized by constituents for stifling that grass roots discussion. She received a tersely-worded letter on March 14 from Alan Schoonover, the policy chair of her Calgary Southeast riding association, in which he scolds her for taking a "gutless political stand." Ms. Brown did not return phone calls last week.

Soft Reformers could also be mistaken about public abhorrence of flogging. A 1994 Reader's Digest poll found one in two Canadians support corporal punishment for sexual predators of women and children. "Art Hanger is not a liability for Reform," says University of Calgary political scientist Tom Flanagan. "His message on justice reform resonates with Canadians." Prof. Flanagan believes the plan to visit Singapore was unwise from a political standpoint, but in general, he says, "I endorse what Art is doing."

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