When is theft a more serious crime than rape or murder?

Lee Friday – April 3, 2017

To facilitate our discussion, let us say that ‘solving a crime’ requires the capture and conviction of the perpetrator, regardless of sentence imposed. The government’s performance record for solving crimes across Canada (2008/09) is as follows:

79 % of homicides are NOT solved

96 % of attempted murders are NOT solved

90 % of robberies are NOT solved

91 % of sexual assaults are NOT solved

92 % of other sexual offences are NOT solved

84 % of major assaults are NOT solved

90 % of common assaults are NOT solved

93 % of uttering threats are NOT solved

92 % of criminal harassments are NOT solved

97 % of thefts are NOT solved

97 % of break and enters are NOT solved

These statistics[1] reflect only those crimes which are known to the police. The public’s lack of confidence in the government’s ability to solve crimes explains why the majority of crimes committed are not reported by the public.[2]

The numbers tell the story – when citizens rape, murder, and rob other citizens, the government is not overly concerned. However, if you try to steal from the government, it will be hot on your trail. A Toronto Star article (March 20,  2017) notes the government’s announcement last year of

“a nearly $500-million investment in the CRA [Canada Revenue Agency] to bolster tax enforcement.”

CRA assistant commissioner Ted Gallivan said “This is a more aggressive CRA . . . There are some actors who need that threat of a jail term to stop, or they actually physically have to be locked up in jail to get them to discontinue their activities.”

Gallivan spoke of “a shift to more severe consequences for people who are participating in aggressive tax avoidance or tax evasion. . . . it’s not just tax evasion, it’s not just white collar crime, it’s a serious criminal offence and it comes with serious criminal consequences.”

Though many citizens of modest income have been harassed by the CRA, this particular article focuses on CRA efforts to pursue wealthy tax-evaders. The government considers tax-evaders to be thieves because they are not honouring their tax obligations to the government – they are stealing from the government.

In a Toronto Star Opinion Piece (March 7, 2017), Percy Downe, senator from Charlottetown, wrote “Think of what could be accomplished if that money was actually collected by the federal government; the programs it could fund, the benefits it could offer to citizens . . .”

What kind of programs and benefits? Perhaps these extra resources will be used to solve a few more ‘citizen on citizen crimes’, which would certainly be welcomed by the public. But no, such expenditures are very low on the list of government priorities. We know this because instead of giving the CRA a half-billion-dollar budget increase, this money could have been – but was not – doled out to municipalities and devoted to ‘citizen on citizen crime’ solving, if this was actually a priority of government.

The primary duty of government is supposed to be to ‘protect the lives and property of citizens.’ We have seen the statistics. How do we grade the government’s performance? I give them an ‘F’, but only because I am unaware of an officially acknowledged ‘lower rank’. G? H?

Regarding taxation, we can argue over who is the actual thief, but that goes beyond the scope of this article. What is clear, beyond any doubt whatsoever, is that the government considers the pursuit of rich tax thieves to be a more prudent use of resources than the pursuit of rapists, murderers, and robbers. This perverse situation arises out of the disconnect between the manner is which the government raises its revenue, and the manner in which it provides services.

On the free market, if I don’t like my haircut or the price the barber charges, I can take my future business to a different barber, whose service and/or price I value more. The same principle applies when we shop for food, clothes, cars, electronics etc. Service is linked to payment. If I do not value the product or service which I expect to receive in return for my payment, I am not obligated to complete the transaction. I shop elsewhere. Thus, businesses are incentivized to provide goods and services which satisfy consumers, as this is the only way to persuade consumers to part with their cash.

However, within the realm of government, coercion replaces persuasion. The government arbitrarily decides the price to be charged for a particular service (in our case, protection) and coercively extracts this price (taxes) from consumers. The government then decides how much protection to actually provide, and to whom it shall be provided. Service is severed from payment. This use of force means that government has little incentive to actually satisfy consumers (taxpayers). And as we have seen, consumers have good reason to be dissatisfied with the protection services supplied by government. Indeed, the government’s own survey indicates that a majority of Canadians do not have a great deal of confidence in the police, or the justice system (see here).

Now let us consider Ted Gallivan’s characterization of tax evasion as “a serious criminal offence and it comes with serious criminal consequences.” This begs the question: why does the government not consider murder, rape, assault, and robbery to be serious criminal offences which generate serious criminal consequences? We know the answer – service is severed from payment. The government has already taken the money (taxes) to fund vast police and judicial bureaucracies. Thus, there is no incentive to actually solve crimes. The less money devoted to this end, the more money available for bureaucratic salaries. But those tax evaders are different. The government has not yet succeeded in taking their money. So, from the government’s perspective, it makes sense to expend monetary resources to hire people to hunt down these hardened criminals – the hope is to retrieve more money than was expended for pursuit and prosecution.

Perhaps you have been otherwise inclined to applaud the government’s efforts to seek out and prosecute those evil tax cheats. After all, they have to pay their fair share of the tax burden, right? All I suggest dear reader, is to take a step back and look at the bigger picture, and ask yourself, “At what cost?”

If you understand the principle I am trying to convey, then you should also understand this article is not about tax-evaders and the CRA per se. Rather, it is about government priorities. Government, at all levels, is a wealth transfer mechanism, period. Always has been. Your life and property are of no concern to politicians and bureaucrats, except insofar as they can exploit your life and property. Do you doubt this is true? Scroll back up and read those crime stats again. Then think about all the various taxes you pay.

 

[1] These statistics are extracted from a report compiled by the Fraser Institute [Stephen Easton, Hilary Furness, & Paul Brantingham The Cost of Crime in Canada: 2014 Report (Fraser Institute, 2014) p 84]; See also my essay

[2] Statistics Canada conducts a General Social Survey every 5 years, in which it seeks to determine the extent to which people are victimized by various types of offences. The total number of crimes reported in the 2009 survey are a multiple of those known to police. For example, see the Fraser Institute Report (footnote 1) p 101: only 5% of sexual assaults and 26% of robberies were reported to police.

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