We have more important things to worry about than pizza.

What kind of fun-sucking, joy-killing bummer of a person decides that, among all the problems currently facing the Canadian legal system, inmates being able to order in pizza and have barbecues is the one he’s going to make a point of putting a stop to? Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, apparently.

I mean, really. We’ve got:
-massive prison overcrowding
-horrendous living conditions for inmates
-a wildly disproportionate representation of Aboriginal/poor/marginalized people in the prison population
-a justice system that does little to deter crime and re-offence, but rather creates more hardened criminals
-pitifully few resources for inmates trying to reintegrate into the general population
-skyrocketing public costs to support this faulty system

And yet the ability of inmates to pool together and order takeout food, on special occasions, as a privilege/reward, with money out of their own pockets, is what Vic Toews thinks is the real problem here. I stand in awe of this man’s lack of priorities.

Look, I’ve been inside a prison. For a time, until fairly recently, I volunteered with the John Howard Society literacy program tutoring inmates at the downtown Remand Centre. As part of my orientation I was given a tour of the facility. And I can tell you, prison is sad, scary place to be for a visitor, let alone someone who can’t leave and go home to their loved ones. I can also tell you that the inmates I tutored seemed to be relatively normal dudes who were always polite to me and appreciative of the opportunity to do something productive with their time. The absolute least we can do to make their experience of being trapped in a cage for a month, 6 months, 6 years, or 20 years slightly less cruel and inhumane is to allow them the simple joy of occasionally indulging in junk food in the company of a few friends.

“We were appalled to learn that dangerous and violent prisoners are able to have pizza parties and barbecue socials. This is simply unacceptable,” said Julie Carmichael, a spokesperson for Toews. Well, I’m appalled that in the last two years, 1000 new inmates have entered the prison system but there have been no new beds. I think it’s unacceptable that the Conservative government is sinking $600 million of taxpayer dollars into prison expansion over the next several years instead of spending that money on poverty reduction.

Speaking on the benefits of these pizza privileges, Correctional Service of Canada spokesperson Sara Parkes said, “The more you can normalize [the inmates’] behaviour on the inside, the better they’re going to be in terms of being prepared to reintegrate into their communities.” She says that some inmates are also allowed to purchase food to share with visiting family members, which is important for maintaining their familial relationships, and that the practice of pooling money to order food is sometimes linked to charity, as a percentage of funds raised are donated to good causes, which is something in which participating inmates take a lot of pride.

So Vic, let’s have a little compassion, a little heart, and focus on the real problems, alright?