|Canadian Youth Violence
The Canada eZine - Crime & Violence
Youth violence appears to be escalating coast-to-coast
September 1st 2007 - From coast to coast, Canadian cities have been struggling with crime that two decades ago might have been unthinkable. From gangland-style killings in Vancouver to the senseless beating of an elderly woman in Halifax, youth and random violent crime appears to be escalating.
Earlier this week Nova Scotia Premier Rodney MacDonald called for more resources from the federal government to deal with the rash of brutal, random acts in Halifax, while in Calgary -- following a stabbing in the city's East Village -- Mayor Dave Bronconnier said, "In my view, it's time to take back the area."
Statistics show nationally youth crime is up three per cent in 2006 -- the first such increase since 2003 - and that the proportion of violent crime has risen as well. The sudden violence of the shootings and assaults interspersed into Canadians' everyday life has rocked cities nationally.
Violent crime, according to Irvin Waller, director of the Institute for Prevention of Crime at the University of Ottawa, includes murder, sexual assault, robbery and common assault -- any interpersonal violence where one or more individuals cause significant pain and threat to another human being.
Among the troubling incidents in the last month was the fatal stabbing of a Toronto man by four panhandlers; the shooting of eight people in a Vancouver restaurant; and the apparent random assault of a woman in her mid-60s on the Halifax Commons at night by three young women armed with metal table legs.
Experts attribute the spike in youth crime -- which seems to go hand-in-hand with the random violence - to everything from desensitization to violence from mass media to poor parenting. "You have a whole cohort that has no respect whatsoever for the criminal justice system, for other people in their life,'' said William Pitt, a criminologist at the University of Alberta.
Pitt said kids have become so used to seeing violence on video games, television and in the school yard that they have come to believe it is a legitimate means to an end. He also blamed lax parents for the problem, noting that two-income families are too busy to look after their children and that permissive parents allow kids out at all times of day. "They're out at late hours where they're not only victims, but victimizers."
Genevieve Breton, a spokeswoman with the federal justice department, said the government intends to strengthen the Youth Criminal Justice Act by including "deterrence and denunciation as principles of sentencing. Criminal behaviour must have meaningful consequences, whether the offender is an adult or a youth."
But Waller believes such legislative zeal is misplaced. He said the best use of government dollars is not to wait until young people commit crimes, but to invest in methods that will deter them in the first place.
He cites the Boston Strategy to Prevent Youth Violence as an example. In the mid-90s, the Massachusetts city was overrun with violent juvenile crime. A coalition of government agencies, businesses, service organizations, religious leaders, and parents worked to introduce a series of preventative strategies to successfully stem the tide of youth violence overtaking the city.
Halifax is currently undertaking a similar initiative. The city is hosting a roundtable on violence in mid-October and has already conducted focus groups and sent out surveys on the subject.
Donald Clairmont, the director of the Atlantic Institute of Criminology at Dalhousie University and the leader of the upcoming roundtable, warned that if youth crime isn't dealt with in the short-term, it could have serious consequences. "These people are going to be with us for the next 70 or 80 years. So I think we have to figure out what we're going to do."
For his part, Waller expresses disappointment with how Canadian authorities have handled the problem to date. "The Canadian dream is we live in a safe country. In comparative terms to other developed countries, we aren't doing that well. Given the knowledge that's there, we could do a lot better."
Canadian Vs. American Violence
Americans have far more crime than Canada does. We all know that.
But we don't really know why.
Here's a clue: Americans glamourize violence and war.
In Canada when we talk about our past wars we say things like "Lest we ever forget" and "Never again". Ask an American how they feel about WWII and you'll get a response similar to "We kicked Hitler's ass!" Totally besides the point the American contribution to both world wars was minimal and it was really British, Australian and Canadian troops that won the fighting. The Americans only joined the fighting when we were already winning.
Which is an important distinction. America waited til the last minute to join those wars. Only in the case of Japan did the USA enter a conflict immediately and only because of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
The Korean War was a stalemate. The USA was routed in Vietnam. They pulled out of the Gulf War instead of invading Iraq. The most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has spent more time procuring oil supplies than searching for WMD or Osama bin Laden.
Which makes an interesting point: Americans love war, but they're not very good at it. Despite all their military power they've never really accomplished their objective. WWI and WWII were already won by the Allies. The Americans really just joined in to loot the enemies resources. America was losing the War with Japan and had to use nuclear weapons to force the Japanese to surrender. They effectively lost both the Korean and Vietnam wars. Pulled out of Iraq during the Gulf War and still haven't accomplished their objectives in the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But we have learned some valuable lessons from these wars have happened and how American troops react in violent situations: Shoot everything, poke it with a stick later. Is it dead? Dunno. Shoot it again.
That kind of mentality translates back home to children and teenagers as a way of life. Shoot everything. Kill everything. Save the girl and make babies. Maybe have a sequel movie.
Teenagers are impressionable. They already have access to violent video games and movies that glamourize violence. Then when they watch the news they see American soldiers blowing stuff up.
"Kewl! I wanna blow stuff up too!"
Of course, nobody actually says that. Its a mental reaction on a subconscious level. The kids learn to desire violence, so when faced with a possibly violent situation they automatically choose the violent solution. Don't believe me? Check out all the video clips of Americans fighting amongst themselves on TooShocking.com.
As if video games and movies wasn't enough we also now have the internet. We can download snuff films (real and faked), rape porn (real and faked) and videos of American soldiers torturing Iraqi prisoners.
Its all TOO REAL and TOO VIOLENT. And way too much for teenage brains to handle. Its not just "desensitization" to violence, its the active promotion and LOVE of violence.
And thanks to American television and the internet that love of violence is now in Canada. Canadian youths see violence as a way to gain respect and power. Someone steps on your shoes or hits on your girlfriend, what do you do? Walk away or beat the crap out of him? Maybe even kill him. If you're drunk (or high on drugs) and already have an interest in violence it just becomes so much easier to lose control and go berserk. Its not your shoes getting stepped on and scuffed. Its your ego that has been wounded.
And apparently Canadian youth now think its "kewl" to be violent too. And why not? TV says its okay.