The copycat syndrome

Patricia Chisholm May 10 1999

The copycat syndrome

Patricia Chisholm May 10 1999

The copycat syndrome

Lunchtime, a high school—and a teenager with a gun. The parallels between last week’s shooting in Taber, Alta., and the April 20 massacre in Littleton, Colo., are chilling. But while the timing and details of the Alberta shooting sent ripples of apprehension through many schools across the country, experts cautioned that the incident is unlikely to signal a trend towards more U.S.-style violence in Canadian schools. “I think the copycat phenomenon

will be limited in Canada,” says Raymond Corrado, a criminology professor at Simon Fraser University. “The gun culture is much, much more dramatic in the U.S. The difference is the scale—he could have taken out a lot more people with a high-powered rifle.” But the potential for more bloodshed remains. Stephen Kent, a sociologist at the University of Alberta, notes that the outpouring of fear and grief that accompanied the shootings in Colorado, vividly

portrayed on television, shows disaffected youth that it is easy to gain the attention they crave by wreaking havoc on the objects of their anger. “Educational institutions at all levels are readily accessible,” Kent says, noting that they offer an easy target, with high concentrations of enclosed, unprotected people. “As long as weapons are available in society, there will be isolated individuals who, from time to time, will seek revenge in violent ways.” For those on the front lines, Taber is a clarion call to deal with violence in

schools. Stuart Auty, a former vice-principal and now head of the Toronto-based Canadian Safe School Network, says it is “time that governments stepped up to the plate. Just about every high-school teacher in this country has got two or three kids in each of their classes who are behaviourally difficult.” One answer, Auty adds, is “more early intervention programs”—because by the time an angry kid comes to class with a gun, it is too late.

Patricia Chisholm