June 24, 2004

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Federal prisoners mark their ballots
Edmonton Journal, June 17

Thanks to a 2002 Supreme Court decision, Canada's 12,500 federal prisoners will be allowed to vote for the first time in the upcoming federal election. The controversial ruling overturned a law banning federal criminals - that is, anyone serving a sentence of more than two years - from voting federally. The court decided the vote was a charter-protected right. (Prisoners in provincial jails have long had the right to vote in federal elections.) Although critics argue that convicted criminals have forfeited their franchise, SFU criminologist Neil Boyd thinks most Canadians are willing to allow prisoners the right to vote. “Denying them the vote is only a reasonable position to take if you feel that the person is no longer a part of your society and I think that is not the approach the corrections system takes in Canada,” he says.

Digital gaming comes to classrooms
National Post, June 16

Often decried as excessively violent or a breeding ground for anti-social behaviour, video and computer games are now being looked at in an entirely different way by educational researchers. Backed by a $3-million grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, the researchers not only accept that kids are drawn to the games, they see the educational value in playing to learn. “Play is an incredibly important way of harnessing intelligence for learning,” says SFU education professor and gaming researcher Suzanne de Castell. “When kids are playing, I find them at their smartest mentally, at their quickest. Why rule that out of school? I don't think it's educational to keep games out of the classroom.”

Bringing back the inheritance tax
Vancouver Sun, June 10

When it comes to the prospect of reviving a national inheritance tax in Canada, the NDP is clearly on its own among the major political parties. NDP leader Jack Layton wants to raise more than $3 billion a year by imposing a 17-per-cent tax on estate transfers valued at more than $1 million. (The first $1 million would be exempt.) SFU political scientist Marjorie Griffin Cohen says it's a good time to bring back inheritance taxes in Canada because wealthy people in the country have enjoyed dramatic income tax cuts in recent years which has created greater inequality among Canadians. “We have an increasingly unequal society and a small tax like this would not hurt anybody really,” she says. “It's a relatively benign tax that makes the whole system fairer.”

If you can't beat them, tax them
Toronto Star, June 9

People are either smoking mad or supportive about a Fraser Institute report recommending that marijuana be legalized and taxed. SFU economics professor and report author Steve Easton, a senior fellow at the conservative think-tank, argues that Canadians should not bypass the chance to alleviate their tax burden by debating whether marijuana use should be legalized. “I think it's like prohibition in the U.S. in that period, in the sense we've tried to suppress [marijuana use],” says Easton. “We've not been successful in doing so and all we do is create an industry that really gives organized crime a chance to get some revenue.” While there are 17,500 marijuana grow-ops in B.C., Easton estimates that only 13 per cent of offenders are actually charged and 55 per cent of those convicted receive no jail time.

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