Sunday, July 22, 2012


We see the images on our computer and television screens. We react in horror and anger. We talk about the incidents over coffee, beers, at home, at work, everywhere. Everyone has an opinion. Yet the incidents continue to happen, with increasing violence and terror.

The recent spate of shootings in Toronto have been characterized by the mayor, Rob Ford, as "isolated and unfortunate incidents" one day, followed by rambling and incoherent threats to "get the thugs" out of the city the next. The police chief, Bill Blair, stood before the cameras last week wearing a look of shock and bewilderment, yet steadfastly stuck to his mantra that Toronto is a "safe city", and that the police have the situation well in hand. Never mind that, in the days following the spectacular shootings on Danzig Ave in Scarborough, there were further shootings resulting in at least two deaths. The thinking of many civic leaders reminds us of the proverbial tale of the ostrich, who, when confronted by threats or unpleasant things, merely hides his head in the sand, hoping that, in time, the problem will just go away. Our leaders, lie the ostrich, hide their heads and have nothing new to offer us. They deny that there is a problem in Toronto and elsewhere, and want us to go about our normal business and not to worry about anything. To admit that there is a problem would force them to think of solutions, act on them, and explain to us why they are acting. These things are difficult for civic leaders, and they prefer to take the easy way. Hence, the ostrich.

Facebook posts and twitter tweets reveal the level to which public opinion has grown. People are genuinely outraged and concerned. Opinions are offered, answers sought. Noone seems to know what must be done: and everyone knows what must be done. Some solutions that have been offered:
1) Ban Handguns.

This seems to be the most logical step. In most cases of mass murder, guns are the chosen weapon, and in the recent cases, handguns are the favoured type of gun. An outright ban will eliminate the legal weapons in the possession of law-abiding citizens: these people rightly claim foul. They argue that their guns are legally obtained and responsibly used and are not part of any crimes.

But the point is that handguns have only one purpose: to kill people. Those who own them for "sport shooting" usually use human sillhouetted targets: it is a chilling prospect to think that law abiding citizens are taking target practice on another human being, even in target form. Most handguns used in offences are illegally obtained, either through theft or guns brought across the border from the US.

Whatever the case, there is no justifiable use for handguns. Eliminate them now, have an amnesty period where owners can bring them in, no questions asked, for destruction. Create tougher new laws with stiffer penalties for anyone caught with a handgun in their possession. Will this alone solve the problem ? No, but it's a start.

2) More Youth Programmes.

As a teacher, I learned how  to maintain control in my classrooms using three methods. One was to constantly monitor what my students were doing. In other words, be watchful and move among them. It worked ... to a point. I couldn't be "on guard" all the time: how would the lesson be taught? A second way was to be in constant communication with the parents. This proved to be effective ... some times. Many parents were caring and involved with their child's education. Those parents were easy to communicate with and, usually, the student performed well. Other parents were ineffective and, therefore, did not co-operate in my efforts to keep their child on track. No matter how many times I talked with these parents, the student's behaviour rarely changed, and it was very frustrating for all concerned. The third and most effective way to maintain class control was to have enough material for the students to work on: in other words, to keep them busy. But just providing "busy work" didn't cut it, because students have pretty good "BS" detectors, and know when the work is just to keep them quiet. Effective and meaningful work was essential. Those were the best lessons, because the students were, for the most part, involved and engaged, and classroom disruptions were kept to a minimum.

Put to the larger picture, a community must involve and engage its youth. It is certainly the job of police to watch and monitor the activities of all people, particularly youth. It is also the responsibility of parents and grandparents to know where their children are and what they're doing. But these alone are not enough. It is the duty of the community to have activities, recreational and educational, to engage our youth to show them that their future is important, and that fun and play can be part of their future. By doing so, youth can avoid the possibility of participating in unproductive, illegal or dangerous activity.
Our cities are failing in all counts. An easy and immediate step would be to keep and expand recreational and educational opportunities for young people after school and creating more job opportunities for youth, especially during the summer months. Politicians cry "no money" for these things. How can we afford to NOT do these?

3) Better Policing Methods.

Police budgets are shrinking, as all budgets are. But, surely, the most important responsibility of government is to maintain the safety of its citizens. We often hear cries of "more police are needed", and there may be truth to this. But better policing can help. Have more police in neighbourhoods ON FOOT, talking to people, interacting with them, instead of sitting in their cruisers, watching their computer screens, writing reports, depending on closed circuit security cameras to be their eyes. An active and engaged police officer, willing to walk and talk to the citizens, to get to know them and follow their lives, can go much further than a police officer prowling in cars, responding AFTER an incident has occured. Will this type of policing cost more? Of course it will. But it is a cost that must be paid.

4) Tougher Laws and Sentences Will Stop The Violence.

Hard to believe that this alone will be effective. How many gun thugs actually think about the consequences of their actions? How many actually believe they will be caught? But society needs some kind of reassurance that, if an act of gun violence is committed upon law abiding citizens, the consequences will be severe. Are the current laws and sentences severe enough? Society seems to think not. Perhaps they simply want their pound of flesh, but if it makes society feel better, then, perhaps our leaders should persure this. Launch a full review of the Criminal Code of Canada, particularly where gun violence is covered. Re-work the existing laws to give judges stiffer minimum sentences to work with, thus taking the pressure off their discretion in handing out sentences. It will probably do little to lessen the gun violence, but society will feel better.

To do nothing, to carry on as we have before, is unacceptable. This is a matter beyond political posturing. It is not an issue of the right or the left. It affects all of us. We must do something now. And we must continue to talk about it and explore new ways of handling the situation. The ostrich must take his head out of the sand.

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