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Stephen Harper has no problem sentencing 14 year-olds to life in prison. As for his gang of merry corporate supporters who have fleeced hardworking Canadians for billions? They have a better chance of getting locked up in the U.S.

It’s not that Canada is devoid of white collar crime – Canadian workers and taxpayers have paid a high price for made-in-Canada market fraud and abuse. It’s just that our politicians would rather enable corporate criminals than hold them accountable.

In the U.S., the FBI is pursuing 28 criminal cases against high-ranked corporate executives involved in the great Wall Street swindle that resulted in a financial market meltdown.

In stark contrast, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty congratulated Canadian courts on their decision to protect financial executives from prosecution for their part in the asset-backed commercial paper (ABCP) fraud in Canada.

White collar crime tends to fly under the radar in Canada. Admittedly, it’s harder to spot than a spray painted mailbox. And our politicians—who bray on about transparency and accountability—work hard to keep it behind closed doors.

In the US, there is open public debate about the Bush administration’s proposed $700 billion bailout package, and even Republican politicians have agreed to restrictions on CEO pay and tighter financial market regulation.

But in Canada, where governments and public entities hold $19 billion of the rotten ABCP investments, taxpayers and workers’ pension funds will end up bailing out the financial industry $5 to $9 billion. And for Canadians, there’s no debate. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty didn’t even respond to CUPE’s demand that he appoint someone to represent the public interest in these proceedings.

Compared to Canada, the U.S. is actually tougher on its financial industry, and isn’t afraid to put white collar criminals in jail.  In fact, Canadians have to rely on the U.S. to prosecute our corporate criminals, including Nortel executives and Conrad Black.   

In the past five years, there have been more than 1,200 successful convictions of white collar criminals in the States, including many Canadians. In Canada, there have only been three.

Consistent with his neo-conservative ideology of privatization and deregulation, Harper wants greater “self-regulation” of Canada’s financial industry. Harper unveiled a plan in his 2007 budget to adopt “principles-based” regulation of the securities and financial industry.  The problem is, business “principles” are, by nature, about making money – not about looking out for the welfare of the public.

Self-regulation opens the floodgates to more fraud on Bay Street, and renders volatile the pensions and investments that Canadians work hard to build, day by day.  

So what’s the difference between white-collar criminals and young offenders? Money, power, and voting age. If teens have to be accountable to Harper’s tough-on-crime agenda, then our corporate criminals should be, too. White collar crime has real victims, and leaves behind damaged lives and dashed dreams. We need a leader who puts the needs of the public above the needs of multi-millionaire fraudsters. But Stephen Harper just wants to protect them from justice – and put more kids in jail.