Has Our Political Rhetoric Taken a ‘Punitive Turn’? Examining Canadian Political Rhetoric on Crime in a ‘Punitive’ Climate

Sarah E. Heath

The notion that some nations have witnessed a ‘punitive turn’ has been the subject of much debate in the criminological literature over the last two decades. Some scholars (e.g., Webster & Doob, 2007) have identified significant increases in incarceration rates in countries such as the United States, England and other Commonwealth nations. With the many striking geographic, historical, cultural and economic similarities between these countries and Canada, it would not be unreasonable to expect Canada to follow a similar trend toward an increase in punitiveness. Interestingly, the notion of increased punitiveness in the Canadian context has only begun to be examined by the academic community, with some longitudinal analysis. In addition to discussions relating to the validity of the “new punitiveness” argument, literature in this area has also been concerned with the measurement of this multifaceted concept of “punitiveness”. To add to the debate, this paper will utilize Canadian federal political party election platform from 1993 to 2011 to unpack the notion of “punitiveness” in a Canadian context. Indeed, by examining the central characteristics present in political rhetoric on crime, this work will attempt to describe and understand if, in fact, any transformations have taken place overtime in Canada.