Canada in the context of contemporary crises
Before exploring some distinctive virtues of Canadian criminology, it is important to note that these are located within deeper global structures that are less virtuous and are riven with crisis. These are structures of global injustice and of a structuring of the social sciences that leaves them ill-equipped to contribute to solving the crises that face us. Canada is a highly integrated piece of global capitalism that, in some respects, is a globally average kind of place. It can seem to have an exceptionally low homicide rate compared to the United States, and its homicide rate is, indeed, well below the world average per capita rate (United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime 2013). Yet in most years there are around 50 countries with a homicide rate as low as or lower than Canada's. The exceptionalism rests with the US rather than Canada. Canada seems to have a very low imprisonment rate compared to its great neighbour. But the US has the highest rate in the world; 80 countries have lower rates per capita than Canada (International Centre for Prison Statistics 2013). Like almost everywhere in the world, global capitalism, with state collaboration, is sharply driving up levels of inequality in Canada. Indigenous peoples feel this most intensively, with one of the consequences being that already catastrophically high Indigenous imprisonment rates in Canada are heading higher.
Canadians sometimes take comfort in their welfare state because they see poor and not-so-poor US citizens routinely travelling across their border to purchase medicines they cannot afford in their own country. Yet Canada is no welfare state leader globally, including on pharmaceuticals. There was once a time when Canada would compulsorily license medicines necessary to save the lives of poor Canadians who could not afford them. Like most countries, it has, in recent decades, bowed to US and EU business pressure to desist from compulsory licensing of medicines.
Pharmaceuticals is as good a topic as any to illustrate the failure of the social sciences, and specifically criminology, to tackle the problems that matter most. Many more lives are lost every year in the world as a result of poor people being unable to afford medicines than are lost because of street crime. Most of these deaths are caused by monopolies that are legal, but whose monopolistic practices, in the opinion of many of us, should be treated as criminal.
It is important to note that a significant minority of the deaths of the poor are caused by illegal monopolies (Braithwaite 1984; Dukes, Braithwaite, and Maloney 2014). Increasingly, when the poor do get access to drugs, they are cheap, often dangerous, counterfeits--sometimes purchased on the Internet and dispatched through the black market and much more often purchased on the street without a prescription. One estimate is 700,000 lives lost globally each year to counterfeit medicines (Harris, Stevens, and Morris 2009), a number that is huge compared to homicides known to the police globally. The scale of the counterfeiting problem seems to have more than doubled so far this century, while it continues to fail to register as a topic of great interest in criminology journals (Dukes et al. 2014).
But this kind of fraud does not kill anywhere near the millions of poor people killed each year by legal drug monopolies. The European Union estimates that adverse reactions to pharmaceuticals kill nearly 200,000 Europeans each year (Archibald, Coleman, and Foster 2011), more than eight times the EU homicides (23,000) in 2010. Gotzsche estimated that the US company Merck was responsible for 120,000 deaths worldwide by 2004, through thrombosis caused by Vioxx, which was misleadingly evaluated by the company. Merck pleaded guilty in 2012 to criminal charges for its promotion and marketing of Vioxx, paying a $950 million civil and criminal settlement (Gotzsche 2013; 160-61). By 2007, Gotzsche (2013: 230-32) estimated, the Eli Lilly corporation's top seller, Zyprexa, had killed 200,000 worldwide, partly on the back of illegal marketing for numerous unapproved uses, including Alzheimer's, depression, and dementia, for which the company forfeited a sum of $1.4 billion in civil and criminal penalties. These deaths, caused by US companies and associated, in each case, with a single product, compare with 14,827 murders and manslaughters known to the FBI in the United States during 2012. Blatant fraud, while it is a substantial part of the problem, bears less of the responsibility for such deaths than gaming the law. Studies that suggested that a product like Lilly's Zyprexa was dangerous were suppressed, but one encouraging study, according to its Cochrane review of 2005, was published 142 times in papers and conference abstracts (Gotzsche 2013: 231). In this respect, criminology journals do not seem so bad!
Why is corporate crime as absent from the pages of the Canadian journal of Criminology and Criminal justice as it is from all the world's leading criminology journals? It is not for a want of influential and highly respected criminologists systematically drawing attention to the issue in their publications. No criminologist has had more influence on the discipline than Edwin Sutherland (1949). In 1949, he was the first to make the point that white-collar crime accounts for greater losses of property and lives than street crime. Many of the brightest and best of the next generation of criminologists--Donald Cressey, Gilbert Geis, Marshall Clinard, and others--alongside consumer advocates like Ralph Nader, have also repeated this message. A number of the most senior living criminologists have also done so. Why is an issue so forcefully articulated by so many respected leaders of the discipline so assiduously ignored in its journals and by its mainstream, including the critical and radical criminological mainstreams?
For this author, the answer seems clearly grounded in a wider crisis of all the social sciences (Braithwaite 2011). It is a crisis of being bound to a dysfunctional disciplinary structure that is excessively tied to categories of institutions as objects of study, rather than being organized around theory. (1) Economics studies economic institutions; political science, political institutions; sociology, social institutions (2); law, legal institutions; criminology, criminal justice institutions ... for the most part. If the police do not investigate fraud in the safety testing of drugs or drug cartels, if prisons do not house pharmaceutical executives, then criminology shows limited interest. My argument has been that the social sciences are deep into a dark period of their history. A drastic remedy is needed--the creative destruction (Schumpeter 1962) of these institutionally grounded disciplines.
To dig themselves out of the hole, illustrated here with drug crime, the social sciences must make a move akin to that made by the biological sciences. The biological science disciplines in the mid-twentieth century were also organized around categories of objects: botany focused on plants; zoology, animals; entomology, insects; anatomy, bits of one species; microbiology, microbes. Now these disciplines have been transcended by organization around powerful theories--evolutionary biology, across all categories of living things, is organized around evolutionary theory; ecology around ecological theory; the new molecular biology around a micro-macro science of DNA. This shift from organization around categories of objects to organization around theory and discovery has lifted the biological sciences into a stellar era of break-throughs, during the past half century. Meanwhile, the social sciences, still organized in category-of-object disciplines, descend deeper into mediocrity.
The fact that some of the social sciences are organized around more abstract objects, like space (geography), time (history), thought (philosophy), language (linguistics), even gender identities (feminism), changes little; emergent theory and discovery still drives the structure of knowledge and discipline creation less than the object does (or institutions associated with it). This is not to deny that geography departments inspire the refinement of great theory and new methodologies of mapping, such as GPS. It is just to raise this author's conjecture that more exciting discoveries might come from social science research...