Nov. 30 2003
RE: Fantino wants crime inquiry
Dear Chief Fantino, (you can write him to if you want, c/o Chief Fantino
Greetings from one who is not a resident of your city (although I was born there), but who does have friends and relatives there, and has also lived there for short periods of time in the past, and thinks that Toronto is one of the great cities in the world. I too feel concern about the increase in violent crime in your city, as you expressed in your news release of Monday Nov. 25, and sympathize considerably with your desire to take steps to decrease the incident rate of this problem, including a review of the Canadian criminal justice system. I do, however, feel that you are thinking along the wrong lines with your call for more police presence, cracking down on gangs, longer prison sentences, etc - it seems to me that meeting violence with violence is rarely conducive to true and lasting solutions to any problem, and I would like to suggest a couple of perhaps "outside-the-box" ideas you might add to the mix when considering how to deal with this problem in the future.
What you - and the city and province and police, really, all working together (with the involvement of the federal government, for that matter! - and all the citizens of the city and province and country should certainly have a say as well! - as this problem is not confined to Toronto, and any real solution would have to be implemented across the country) - need to do is to look at the actual roots of the problem of gangs and violence, and tackle the problem at its source, or sources, if the solution is to be effective and long-lasting. Are the gangs doing this just because they like violence and what not - or is there perhaps a deeper cause that might be more effectively addressed?
I believe there are three main sources to the current problem of crime in Canada, which, if addressed, would go a long, long ways to reducing the crime rate in Toronto - and elsewhere in Ontario and Canada, for that matter.
First, we must look seriously at the problem of poverty in Canada, and Ontario and Toronto - as a recent report in the Star pointed out, the income gap between the "ok" citizens and the "poor" citizens has increased over the last few years - I don't really think I need to go into any detail about the very direct relation between poverty and crime, as this relationship has long been understood and acknowledged by all civilised governments and those parts of such governments involved with fighting crime, of which your police force is certainly central (I think perhaps this relationship may have been somewhat less understood by the Harris so-called "Progressive Conservative" government which ran Ontario for the last 8 years, thus adding to the increase in both poverty and crime in general the last few years, but now that that extremist sort of government has been banished rather forcefully by the citizens of Ontario, perhaps you can join with the new Liberal government in helping to reverse those trends. We all can see how ineffective such Draconian measures are in, for instance, the United States, which has some of the harshest and most punitive laws and the highest prison population in the world, and also huge crime rates - quite obviously, the punishments are not having any great impact on the crime rate there - and the US also has one of the highest poverty rates among industrialised, modern countries). In any event, actually passing laws to help the poor by various methods is, obviously, not your direct mandate, but you could lobby the government and the public, as you do so well in various ways, to pass laws and undertake various other things to reduce the serious poverty rate in Toronto and Canada - were you to acknowledge this direct link between poverty and crime, and indicate your wish to combat the crime problem by going to its source and fighting poverty, the elected officials would have to listen to your voice of experience.
Let me be clear - I am not advocating simply throwing a lot of money at poor people and encouraging a life of leisure for lazy people, living their lives on government handouts (we have far too many doing that already - the "leisure class" clipping bond coupons leading the way - but I'll not get into that here!) - most poor people would be more than happy to be given the opportunity to improve their lives through education and a decent job, and if we made channels available to them to do this, they would gladly and thankfully avail themselves of the opportunity. But instead we give them barely enough to live on through welfare payments to which we attach severe social stigma (many political figures shamefully referring to "welfare bums", "welfare moms", etc), thus further demoralising them and making them depressed and resentful rather than confident and hopeful while they work their way out of the poverty trap, and stick them in slums where violence and crime are daily occurrences, and then criticize them for living there - and demand extra police protection for citizens in nearby areas! We deny them decent educations and then deny them decent jobs because they have no education. One could be forgiven for looking at such a situation and thinking the government and other leaders of our society actually encourage such living conditions, and the inevitable resulting crime, rather than actually wishing to alleviate the situation!
But the people in these slums are still human beings, Chief Fantino, with human emotions and desires - and nobody welcomes such a life, and most aspire to something better - and if they are denied the "civilised" options of education and a decent job - then many will inevitably turn to crime.
I am especially bothered about the children raised in such circumstances - look if you will at some pictures of young children - children, at least, who have not yet been brutalised by severe poverty or violence as they are in many areas of the world - look at the innocence and wonder and trust and beauty of their small faces, and in their eyes - it has always bothered me that we take this innocence and beauty and potential and during the course of their young lives in slums such as I talk about above we turn them into resentful, violent young adults we see all around us and that form the core group of your crime problem - I can think of no greater condemnation of our species and society that we do this to these children, no greater sign of our essential unfitness to call ourselves a "civilised" society - and this speaks very, very directly to the crime you are so concerned about, whether or not the rates are actually increasing. The young people in the gangs - or older people - were once these young and beautiful children - they did not carry a gene of some sort that said that when they were older they would become gang criminals practicing theft and intimidation and violence - no - they were taught to be like that - taught by those that came before them, of course - but also taught that this was a valid option for survival in our society by the lack of decent alternatives offered to them during their very formative young years in the slums and ghettos of our large cities, or other places in the country.
So, Chief Fantino, if you are truly interested in tacking the crime rate in Canada, this is where you must begin - by removing the breeding ground for most criminals, the slums of poverty where children are given no opportunity to aspire to "the good life", but learn only that WE have condemned them to a second-rate existence - which many of them simply do not accept - and turn to crime as a way out of the slum. And it does no good whatsoever to say that the money is simply not available - there are tens of billions of dollars available, provincially and federally, of which only a small amount relatively speaking would do amazing things to alleviate this poverty - it is all in the priorities. We seem to have no trouble spending huge amounts of money on police and junkets for politicians and tax breaks for wealthy businessmen and their companies and bids for Olympic games and government advertisements to tell the people what wonderful jobs they are doing and any of a thousand other things - or we can take just a fraction of that money and see to it that EVERY child in the city of Toronto or anywhere in Canada is guaranteed a decent home to live in, enough food to eat and clothes to wear, a neighbourhood where people have options other than crime, books to read and study from, after-school activities to participate in, and so on. It's a matter of policy, Mr. Fantino, not money. Unfortunately, for many years now, the policy has been to treat the poor as 3rd-class citizens, and this policy quite inevitably turns many of them on the criminal path. It need not be so - indeed, as you are undoubtedly well aware, in 1989 the government of Canada passed a resolution that by the year 1999 there would be no poor children in Canada - shamefully for everyone involved, there are actually more poor children now than there were then. And we are paying the price, in many, many, many ways - and will continue to do so until this terrible situation is rectified.
Secondly, and at least as important, is the rather serious matter of the laws of Canada themselves, many of which create criminals where no real criminal action has occurred (that is, no other citizens were violated in any way through the activity which creates the "criminal") - which obviously adds a great deal of work to your job, being forced to spend a lot of time chasing and charging people with things, and wasting more time in court, about things which no civilised society would criminalise. I speak, of course, of the criminalisation of such things as using recreational chemicals (especially marijuana), prostitution, and gambling. These things may be distasteful to some people, but "distasteful" is hardly sufficient grounds for calling something a crime and creating a whole new class of criminals - you can hardly deny that many people participate in such activities, and few people actually support their criminalisation (almost all surveys I have read in recent years, for instance, indicate that 70%+ of Canadians support legalisation of marijuana) - thus it is not only a waste of time, but very undemocratic for you and police forces all across the country to be spending your time trying to stop people from participating in these activities.
More importantly, by making such activities illegal, you provide a very fertile breeding ground for the "organised crime" and gang activities which you are finding to be such a problem. And I might point out that there is a very negative synergistic effect in the creation of such crimes - many women, for instance, turn to prostitution for no other reason than to support their drug habit - which, if it was legal, they would not need to do; the creation of this twice-"guilty" "drug"-prostitute then leads to the encouragement of those most distasteful of all underworld creatures, the "pimps", who would have no rock left to crawl under were prostitution legalised and legally regulated brothels or whatever established; and the great profits to be made from selling illegal drugs, of course, or trafficking in women in the illegal prostitution underworld, gives this underworld and youth gangs a great deal of money with which they can support and expand their criminal activities. I strongly suspect, all rhetoric aside, Chief Fantino, you know as well as most of us that simply legalising marijuana alone would immediately result in a 50-75% drop in all criminal activities in major cities in Canada!!! And add to that the legalisation of prostitution, and there would hardly be anywhere left for these gangs which are such a problem these days to find any activity from which to make the money they need to operate (the next biggest organised crime trip these days seems to be cigarette smuggling - and the obvious solution is simply to remove the ridiculous taxes, and once again you deny the criminals their money, and save huge amounts of policing costs!!! (and there is no _serious evidence available that reducing cigarette taxes would result in overloaded hospitals from people with cigarette-induced cancers!! - none at all - check it out!)
Also synergistically, but in a more positive sense, imagine the resources of the police forces that would be freed up to go after more serious criminals were you no longer required to supervise the harmless drug use activities of the people of your city!!
So point 2 - if you are truly serious about reducing criminal activities, you must use your considerable influence to demand that the government stops wasting your time pursuing and charging these innocent people by removing these laws that attempt to make criminal activities out of activities that the state has no real business in.
Well - I had thought to go on further, pointing out the very detrimental effect on all "normal" citizens of seeing that the rich people in the country seem to have a different set of laws, or are at least subject to a somewhat different interpretation of the same laws by everyone in the "justice" system from police through judges, which engenders considerable disrespect for the justice system as well, which should be the true focus of any inquiry into the Canadian justice system, which I do feel is long overdue - but the letter grows lengthy, and I am sure you are quite busy these days, so I will leave it here - the above points, poverty and senseless laws that create criminals from otherwise good citizens and waste a great deal of time that should be devoted to more relevant pursuits, are the main ones I wished to emphasize.
So I wish you well in your endeavours, Chief, and do hope you will take what I have said seriously, and begin the path towards a truly fair and just society, which is undoubtedly what we all want to see here in Canada, for ourselves and our children, and their children yet to come.