Last week, while most of the country was meditating on the ideals of Love, Hope and Optimism, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation gleefully announced that, purely on their advice, the Saskatchewan Party government would no longer be purchasing video games for use at youth correctional facilities. According to the CTF’s press release, a mere six hours elapsed between their call to Premier Brad Wall’s office and the announcement that the Sask Party had, in the CTF’s words, “outlawed” the purchase of video games for incarcerated youth by government agencies.
This is so offensive on so many levels that it’s taken me nearly a week to process my overwhelming outrage.
My first thought was, “thank god we’ve finally found something more to take away from these kids.” I’ve never been inside a youth corrections facility, but I’ve worked with a lot of people who grew up in them. They are, to a person, individuals who have been failed by the system at every step along the way. In Saskatchewan, as much as 85% of inmates in youth correctional facilities are First Nations and Metis. These are kids, as young as 12, who’ve been neglected when they weren’t abused. These are kids born into poverty to parents who were never taught to take care of themselves. If their parents weren’t brought up in residential schools, you can bet their grandparents were. The time they spend in a youth correctional facility is society’s very last chance to do right by these kids. Any argument that these kids have got it too easy is pure bullshit.
Steve Gates – Hello Jesus by killbeat music
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But, okay, I can see how the Canadian Taxpayers Federation–an anonymously-funded regular foe of working people, climate science and Aboriginal rights–might be feeling a little restless these days. They’ve got ideological soulmates in power at nearly every level of government across the country. One of Stephen Harper’s most prominent cabinet ministers, Jason Kenney, was once president of the secretive group, even. In such a Canadian Taxpayer Federation-friendly climate, it’s easy to understand how a supposed government watchdog might go looking for a juicier bone. And as a stand-up, transparent organization operating only on the high-minded ideals of accountability and fairness, why wouldn’t the Canadian Taxpayers Federation finally find a worthy opponent in jailed teenagers? Seriously. Talk about nerve.
Normally, the CTF dresses its regressive stances in the dapper menswear of fiscal responsibility. They usually at least make a show of pretending to stand up for the interests of regular Canadians. But not here. Writes CTF’s Saskatchewan rep, Winnipeg-based Colin Craig: “In the grand scheme of things, the government didn’t spend a lot of money – just $1,616.97 on the games over a four year period. But that’s not the point.” So what is the point? No seriously, Colin, what the fuck is the point? Here’s what he told the Leader-Post:
I think there’s still a lot of people out there that would agree that jail is a place where you’re supposed to repay your debt to society, and if you’re not cleaning up a park or providing some kind of a public service, you should be learning some kind of skill, so that you’re going to be a person that can contribute to society …
Wait, wait, what? Kids in jail should be repaying their debt to society? By cleaning up parks? Let me get this straight. Is the Canadian Taxpayers Federation honestly saying we should force kids, the overwhelming majority of whom have brown faces, to perform manual labour for no compensation? I guess there’s a historical precedent for that–not in this country, but in the one to the south that the CTF seems to admire so greatly. No, they would never say that. In fact, I asked CTF’s National Communications Director, Scott Hennig, straight up if the fact that 85% of these kids were aboriginal had anything to do with the CTF’s decision to fuck with them. He said, “Ok, so now you are calling us racist? Please. You haven’t a clue.” It’s true. I have no idea how racist they are. I suppose I could take a guess.
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That’s really just the beginning of what’s wrong with this situation. I mean, how scary is it that Colin Craig, a Manitoban, can call the Saskatchewan premier and have policy affecting minors changed by the end of the business day? Nobody voted for Colin Craig, and he won’t reveal who he works for. But he has the power to change what happens in Saskatchewan’s corrections system from one province over. Fuck that, man. You need to call your MLA and sort that shit out.
Then there’s the matter of, well, should jails provide incarcerated kids with video games? How about hell fucking yes. Bob Kary, executive in charge of Saskatchewan’s incarcerated youth told the L-P that “games are vetted for content and come as a reward for participating in education, employment and treatment programs.” So the Canadian Taxpayers Federation has just taken away a pretty valuable tool from the people who are teaching these kids how to function in society. I always thought free market capitalists believed in economic incentives for being a decent fucking human being. I guess I was wrong about that.
Then there’s the matter of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation treating video games like Estes Kefauver treated comic books. We all recognize that as a paranoid witch-hunt now, and, who knows? Maybe someday we’ll all have a laugh about those wacky Randians in the CTF and their fear of children. For now, let’s just agree that they’re what Joystick Division calls Anti-Gaming Nutjobs. Because if we look too deeply into what the CTF has done here we might find that they’ve blindly attacked a value-neutral medium, not to mention a bunch of kids who desperately need help. And if they’re going to attack one medium, why not another? Will they ask that the government no longer supply movies to incarcerated children? Or books, how do you guys at the Canadian Taxpayers Federation feel about books? Other than for burning, I mean.
Steven Beattie, a writer and critic I admire, posted the following quote to his Twitter account last week.
“The opening of every schoolhouse closes a jail.” – François Guizot
If you’ve got some extra bucks, you ought to consider giving some to the John Howard Society to let these children in our jails know that not everyone sees them as worthless.
Emmet Matheson is a freelance writer who blogs at A Bulldozer With a Wrecking Ball Attached. You can e-mail him at: bulldozerDOTwreckingballATgmailDOTcom