CANADIANS ARE FED UP WITH CRIME-AND WITH THE CODDLING OF CRIMINALS
CANADIANS ARE FED UP WITH CRIME-AND WITH THE CODDLING OF CRIMINALS
The assault and rape, if the allegations are true, was a matter of experience over innocence. The accused predator was a 26-year-old man with a history of sexual attacks on minors, out on probation, who allegedly stalked his victim through a Hamilton, Ont., park one afternoon last month. The prey was a 13-year-old boy out riding his bike. The boy told police that he was dragged off the bicycle into some bushes, threatened with death and then taken to a nearby alley where he was forced into various sexual acts before being sodomized. It was, said Sgt. Chuck Bamlett of the Hamilton-Wentworth police, who later arrested the suspect, “a particularly disturbing crime.”
Disturbing, yes. But in recent years, such crimes seem to have become much more common. Canadians do not need statistics to tell them that their lives are less safe now than they were a generation ago. They receive a steady dose of frightening news: of teenagers showing up for school carrying guns, of priests or teachers convicted of molesting children entrusted to their care, of street gangs whose vicious activities often claim the lives of innocent victims. Everywhere, Canadians are seething with anger at what they view as a justice system gone awry, one which favors criminals over victims and that releases violent offenders from jail too soon, allowing them to hurt and kill again. “They are getting away with murder,” is the citizens’ refrain.
It is a cry that has not gone unnoticed by Canada’s political class as the country embarks on a general election campaign. Fear is on the rise. Over coffee or around the dinner table, Canadians are more inclined to complain about the rising crime rate than arcane constitutional points or the doomsday rhetoric about the deficit. Suddenly, says Jim Kingston, a lobbyist for the Canadian Police Association (CPA) in Ottawa, “every political party seems to be listening to the public and talking tough on law and order.” For the first time, the CPA itself has endorsed a slate of candidates: four Conservatives and seven Liberals, all incumbents. “Since then,” says Kingston, “many MPs have approached us and said, ‘What about me?’ ” No party wants to appear soft on crime. In the months leading up to the election call, the Tories passed laws to protect women from men who stalk them. They also amended the Young Offenders Act to make it possible to try youths charged with murder in adult court. The Liberals have countered with promises to tighten gun-control laws and the laws governing parole of high-risk criminals.
And Reform party Leader Preston Manning, who has vowed to construct a “people’s platform” of issues, rails against what he sees as a lax legal system. Speaking in Toronto last month, Manning suggested that parents should be held legally responsible for crimes committed by their children when “it can be demonstrated that a lack of parental control contributed to the actual offence.” Meantime, the pressure on Parliament for tougher laws continues to build. One of the bestknown activists is Priscilla de Villiers, whose 19-year-old daughter, Nina, was murdered in 1991 by Jonathon Yeo while he was out on bail for other violent offences. Over the past year, the de Villiers family has gathered more than 1.5 million signatures on a petition calling for changes to the Criminal Code. But Canadians are clearly skeptical that politicians on their own can clean up the streets. Instead, a growing number are taking safety into their own hands. In some cases, that means enrolling in selfdefense courses, or accepting that they must never walk outside alone or along unlit streets. But the rush to empowerment in this case has a darker side, as demonstrated by the conviction last week of a Cobourg, Ont., man for using a baseball bat to break the legs of a school principal who had sexually molested his 14-year-old son. ‘This is the mood of people now,” de Villiers said last week. ‘They’re saying, ‘If you won’t fix the system, we’ll take it into our own hands.’ ” Politicians say that they are listening and acting. But it is a bandwagon that they were among the last to board.
Stan Keyes insists that he was a front-runner in calling for a crackdown on criminals, and cannot resist playing a bit of politics with the issue. “Manning only talks about law and order because he no longer has the Constitution to harp on,” the Liberal member from Hamilton West said last week as he stood beside a table laden with his pamphlets on the campus of Hamilton’s McMaster University. “He’s two years behind on the issue.”
But Keyes, a former television reporter who covered “everything from police to City Hall and Parliament Hill,” admits that he himself never thought much about crime issues until he was approached in 1991 by Jessie Smith and her husband Terry. Jessie’s parents, Arnold and Donna Edwards, had been murdered in March, 1991, at their Hamilton-area home by her sister’s estranged boyfriend—who at the time was under a court order to stay away from the family. George Lovie was convicted of the killings and sentenced to concurrent 25-year sentences, but is eligible to apply for parole after serving just 15 years. “We were naive to think that the sentencing was stricter,” said Terry Smith. “And we were really naive about how the parole system works.”
The couple talked to Keyes—“It just seemed natural to go to the people who make the laws,” Terry Smith explained last week—and together they developed a private member’s bill calling for an end to parole for first-degree murderers. Keyes promoted the bill with the slogan: “Life means life.” Recalled Smith: “Stan made it very clear that the bill would never pass, but we wanted to get word out that the system makes a mockery of justice.” The Tories killed the bill last November.
But no politician in southwestern Ontario can be too tough on law and order these days. The region has been traumatized over the last two years by a series of brutal and well-publicized slayings of innocent women. Even a partial list of the violence is sobering: 18-year-old Carrie Lynn Pinard, a model who was killed by a shotgun blast fired in the hallway of her Toronto apartment building during an altercation between two groups of youths; Nina de Villiers’ abduction and murder in Burlington; and the murders of Leslie Mahaffy, a 14-year-old Burlington student, and Klisten French, 15, of St. Catharines, as well as a series of rapes in the Toronto suburb of Scarborough. “What young girl in southern Ontario would not be terror-struck after what we’ve been through here?” asked Jessie Smith.
Smith’s solution is, by her own admission, idealistic. She has joined Canadians Against Violence Everywhere Advocating Its Termination (CAVEAT), a group founded by de Villiers after her daughter’s murder. Smith wants stricter parole provisions, but she argues that more education is also needed. “We have to teach children life skills that help them avoid resorting to violence and which promote healthy sexuality,” she says. “I wish I had the courage to ask George Lovie’s mother what kind of childhood he had.”
But it was a more hard-nosed message that the campaigning Keyes tried to deliver to about three dozen retired Hamilton-Wentworth police officers last week. Keyes hopped quickly over his critique of Tory economic policies to get to his pitch that “we need to reexamine the laws of our land.”
“I want you to know that I understand where you’ve been,” he told the gathering of former patrol officers, “and that I know there are flaws in the justice system.” But some of the retired cops had long memories. As far as they were concerned, it was successive Liberal governments in the 1960s and 1970s that tipped the scales of justice in favor of criminals. ‘Wasn’t it your party in government that did away with capital and corporal punishment?” yelled out one. Another loudly recalled a case long ago in which a convicted Hamilton rapist was punished with 12 lashes as well as a term in prison. “You tell me that doesn’t work?” the ex-cop shouted. “Bullshit. After that, the guy wouldn’t even spit on the sidewalk.” Another man interjected: “We’ll never get changes as long as the lawyers are in charge. Politicians think like lawyers and act like lawyers.” In the face of the onslaught, Keyes could only manage a wan smile. Well, I’m no lawyer,” he said.
But the issue for the Smiths is simple. “If everybody, including the prime minister, could have a psychic flash of the terror and mental anguish that survivors feel, they would see that the system is so purely wrong that it must be changed,” said an agitated Terry Smith. “It just seems reasonable that we shouldn’t ever have to worry about George Lovie again. Our problem, in our family, should be over.”
The tragic events of the last two years have cut a 0 swath of fear through the communities along the western shoreline of Lake Ontario. The most notorious murders were those of Mahaffy and French, for which Paul Teale, a resident of the Port Dalhousie neighborhood of St. Catharines, now awaits trial. Meanwhile, police are investigating a series of rapes in the area. Kelli MacCulloch, 20, a McMaster University student who grew up in Port Dalhousie, says that a
CRIMES OF VIOLENCE, PER 100,000 PEOPLE:
1987 friend’s 14-year-old sister was among the victims. “I used to get up early in the morning and walk down to the rowing club alone,” MacCulloch recalls. “I was so stupid. I still think, ‘It could have been me.’ ”
MacCulloch adds that she is more angry than frightened by the threatening environment in which women live. “I accept that I have to take precautions, but it makes me mad,” she says. Others are resigned to the fact that streets and parks are almost off-limits to women and children—unless they are in a group. “Our kids never go to the park alone,” said Brenda Markwick, who lives just a block from the Hamilton park where the 13year-old boy was assaulted. ‘You learn to live with it. The world has changed.”
Jim Flood refuses to accept that people must live in fear. A martial-arts instructor, Flood runs a thriving self-defense business. Last week, only two and a half years after he launched the enterprise, he struck a deal to open his fifth branch. “I feel a bit guilty that we are successful because the world is less safe,” said Flood. To soothe his conscience, he began offering free lectures to schoolchildren on how to street-proof themselves. “I might not have done it before I had kids,” said Flood. “But now, I wonder how I’d feel if my daughter was taken. This is my way of giving something back to a community that is scared.”
“I was an over-protective mother,” Priscilla de Villiers says as she sits amid the clutter of CAVEAT’S new offices in Burlington’s old town centre. “And Nina was careful. She carried a whistle, she knew how to use her keys. But in the end, no self-defense course, no pepper spray, nothing is going to stop a man like Yeo who is in a rage and intent on killing. At some point,” she says, her eyes welling with tears, “society has to protect us from people who are known to be a threat to others.”
Armed with an articulate manner and a powerful message, de Villiers believes in working within the system to achieve reform—and that politicians can make Canada safer. She participated in a special panel, convened by the federal government last spring, to examine ways in which highrisk offenders can be prevented from committing crimes after their release. Educating people on how to avoid or defuse danger on their own is fine, she says, but harsh sentences are essential to curbing the violence. “Over the last 25 years, the message from government has been that if you commit a crime, somehow it’s society’s fault,” says de Villiers. “But just as we have imposed penalties that say, ‘Don’t you dare drink and drive,’ we must have punishment serious enough to say, “We’re sorry if society has brought you pain, but don’t you dare inflict that pain on somebody else.’ ” Quietly, she adds: We’ve got to get the guns out of the schools, and keep the predators and the repeat pedophiles off the streets.” At election time, it’s a message that makes politicians an attentive audience.
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