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Clayton Ruby

Practicing justice for more than three decades

Clayton Ruby

Clayton Ruby has practiced justice by putting the law to work.

He was interviewed regarding Stinchcombe earlier this year.

He came to Saskatchewan in 1994 to present a winning argument to our appeal court overturning Judge Albert Lavoie's conviction of T.S. Some Saskatchewan lawyers were grousing, "We could have done that." But they didn't.

Perhaps Clayton Ruby is such a good lawyer because he's intelligent, thoughtful, and he reads and studies.

One man's criminal . . .

Organized Crime and American Power: A History
By Michael Woodiwiss
University of Toronto Press,
432 pages

This book is so good that you will never think about organized crime in the same way again. Michael Woodiwiss begins with a broad practical definition: "Organized crime is systematic criminal activity for money or power." It is not new. And its essential features can be seen as clearly in early Roman civilization as in today's war on drugs.

The U.S. approach, which dominates all public discussion, is both narrower and simplistic. It understands organized crime only in a very restricted sense, as virtually synonymous with supercriminal Mafia-type organizations. An entire history -- shades of Eliot Ness and the FBI -- has emerged to justify this model of organized crime, which essentially pits good against evil, decent society against a foreign invading organism. "Organized crime in this sense is a threat to rather than a part of society," Woodiwiss writes. "The issue has become a simple good versus evil equation that permits only one solution -- give governments more power to get gangsters or those associated with gangsters."

Thus, the American ideology of organized crime provides both an explanation, with a dramatic though mythical past, and a justification for an anti-crime strategy that does not and cannot work.

This narrowed vision of what constitutes organized crime has resulted in a convenient blindness. By the 1980s, the myth of one organization dominating organized crime "had become too absurd to sustain. Mafia mythology was adapted to a new age by repeated claims that, though the Mafia had once been a dominant force in U.S. organized crime, it was now being challenged by several crime 'cartels' emerging around Asian, Latin American and other groups." Thus our thinking kept to the same formula: Evil forces outside mainstream American culture threaten otherwise morally sound American institutions.

But the evidence marshalled by Woodiwiss, who teaches history at the University of the West of England in Bristol, shows facts quite opposite from this ideology: Respectable politicians and domestic corporate elites have gained more from organized criminal activity than any other group. Corporate crime -- Enron and Arthur Anderson come to mind -- causes losses more severe and more pervasive.

What Woodiwiss shows convincingly is that organized criminal activity -- broadly understood -- is not an alien element, but rather a complement to the political and corporate structures that sustain ordinary society. It is the collaboration between government and criminals, and the criminal behaviour within business and political systems, that make the United States what it is. The dominant form of organized crime is not regarded as a political priority because it does not fit the organized crime "alien conspiracy" model. Thus it goes largely undetected and unprosecuted.

As Woodiwiss points out, particularly in the context of drug-control strategies, the imposition of this U.S. model internationally has constituted a U.S.-led "dumbing down of global discourse about organized crime." Fact: Illegal drug profits are so great that they have nullified the impact of law enforcement, while the fight against drugs has "been institutionalized as a never-ending project that seems to benefit few outside the public and private professionals who administer it."

The U.S. model leads to giving more and more power to officials, ostensibly to combat organized crime. Extended powers of wiretapping, asset seizure, indictment and sentence have been sustained by the image of the Mafia, but those laws extend to much criminal activity because most criminal activity is organized. Political leaders have trained us to think of the Mafia or the Columbian drug cartel or "outlaw biker" groups when we pass these measures, not three neighbourhood teenagers out regularly looking for your stereo.

Obviously, there are gangster groups all over the world. But these groups participate in illegal markets; they rarely, if ever, control them as the myth suggests. If they did, the price of cocaine would not have dropped steadily since the 1970s.

This conceptualization of a fight against Mafia-type organizations headed by mythic figures in top-down structures ensures occasional spectacular arrests. But it provides no explanation for why there is always a new struggle against a new enemy. We focus on personalities rather than on structural elements; we focus on a few crimes rather than on those like corporate criminality or environmental degradation.

As Woodiwiss points out, governments, acting locally or internationally, would have relatively little difficulty combating organized crime if it really were dominated by a relatively small number of supercriminal organizations. But this model camouflages the involvement of powerful and accepted institutions in mammoth criminal activity. And it focuses our efforts, to dramatic effect, away from environmental crimes, corporate criminality, large frauds and the like. As drama, this is first-rate stuff. As social policy, it is dangerously inadequate.

The picture is not a pretty one. Despite, and in many ways because of, increased powers and huge dollars spent on the war on drugs, for example, we have produced a world of institutionalized greed, corruption, betrayal and terror greater than that during Prohibition.

The pop-culture version of organized crime that has dominated our thinking led to the establishment of institutes for study. It is a sexy subject. In Toronto, Osgoode Hall Law School hosts the Nathanson Centre for the Study of Organized Crime, whose Margaret Beare echoes Woodiwiss: "I fear that we are doing to the concept of 'transnational crime' what we did for 'organized crime' and 'corruption.' That is, basically, to turn the concepts into a misdirected (or undirected) vehicle for additional resources, increasing powers and a justification for over-riding privacy considerations, sovereignty rights and due process."