Tuesday, March 06, 2007

What to Do About Betty Krawczyk

Are any of you really in a quandary about what the justice system should be doing with 78-year-old Betty Krawczyk?

The title of her book, Lock Me Up or Let Me Go, appears to complain about our collective ambivalence on this matter, but I don't see it as very difficult question at all. She tells of her struggle to prevent logging of old-growth forest in the Elaho Valley, and of her time in the Burnaby Correctional Centre for Women. Now, she has once again defied a court order, refusing to sign an undertaking not to go near logging trucks until the end of her trial. Elected government, according to Betty, is not doing a good enough job of balancing social, ecological and economic interests and therefore she refuses to obey it. She even refuses to obey courts that have ruled on the law's application to her specific case. Yet she must recognize that we would live in a state of anarchy if everyone could pick and choose which laws to respect; it is not even clear that the trees would be safer in such an environment. She should therefore be willing to accept the consequences of her actions. She should go to jail for contempt of court, and ten months seems a reasonable sentence for a repeat offender like Krawczyk.

With respect to her prison conditions,however, the issues are a bit murkier. Here is what she wrote in a letter to Solicitor General Rich Coleman, in 2003:

"When any women is incarcerated she has a human right to cleanliness. To clean bedding and a clean mattress, to clean clothes and to clean femine (sic) hygiene, to clean food and clean eating utensils, and a space to put her belongings. All of this becomes problematic if not impossible under the conditions of extreme over crowding that is now the norm at BCCW."

Let's see--is she saying that women who are incarcerated are treated differently from how men are treated? Or that they are not, but that they should be, because females need more closet space? Since her view of what ails the world is rooted in an analysis of "male violence", she should clarify--is she a liberal feminist demanding equal treatment (i.e. that men stop treating women like "animals"), or is she a radical feminist complaining that similar treatment (i.e. incarceration according to lower "animal" standards of males) is somehow unfair to the fairer sex?

I get the feeling that, if only life were more comfortable behind bars for women who engage in civil disobedience, Betty would be a happier person. Maybe it is actually her own ambivalence that she is complaining about.--MC


Anonymous said...

Appearantly Betty K. doesn't understand that, in B.C at least, money does grow on trees. If we do not harvest them, where will she get the income that supports her while she continues her fight? Her defiance of the law is plainly habitual and is costing the rest of us money, so "lock her up and throw away the key!" If it weren't the logging of old growth forests, I'm sure she'd find another reason to spew her venom.

Mark Crawford said...

Of course, "locking her up and throwing away the key" will also cost us money.

To be fair to Betty, maybe she is willing to complain about the conditions that exist for ALL of BC's inmates, regardless of age or sex. But, as you say, it is the power of a strong economy that will generate the additional revenue needed to improve conditions for all prisoners. And, for that to happen, society will need to engage in a difficult balancing act between economic, social and environmental priorities.

Anonymous said...

It will cost us to lock her up. Will it compare to the cost of clogging up our court system? When it comes to Betty - " A Rose is a rose" and a "B" is a "B". This woman will go to her grave complaining, but not knowing why.

Mark Crawford said...

P.S. I should say that I appreciate the value of protesting. In the first place, it is valuable to democracy, if only because it enables the many who are too poor to buy air time in the media to get their voices heard. Secondly, it is demonstrably true that many of us who never would have heard of Clayoquot Sound or the Elaho Valley otherwise have become reasonably aware of the issues surrounding our dwindling old-growth forests because of people like Betty Krawczyk.

None of which is to say that she should be above the law. Once she had made her point--getting in the news first for holding up logging operations, and then for her trial--she had an obligation to obey the judge's ruling.