Crime and No Punishment

No longer just an ­inconvenient truth, downtown crime is a crisis affecting our quality of life today, and our ability to grow and become a better city tomorrow

I FIND IT’S generally good policy to call a spade a spade. But in politically correct Canada, where everyone is a victim and it is government’s job to tuck us all in at night, speaking obvious truths has long since fallen out of fashion. Time to change that.

We have a serious problem in downtown London, where there is a population of people on our streets that many citizens find distressing and often threatening: drifters, grifters, panhandlers, petty criminals, drug dealers, drug users, alcohol abusers, the mentally challenged, the mentally ill and people just ‘looking for trouble’.

Let’s remember, right off the bat, that every one of them is someone’s mother, father, sister, brother, daughter or son. They are real people with real lives and problems, and they deserve to be recognized as such.

But the truth is many of them are both troubled and trouble. The irresponsible ones are strangling our downtown, yet we’re not supposed to say anything that might offend anyone.

Over the past century, working Canadians have contributed tens of billions of dollars to government programs trying to help the variously needy in our community. Yet the problems are arguably as bad as they’ve ever been.

And when downtown business owners ask council or the police for help to deal with legitimately troublesome individuals, they are often accused by members of the welfare industry of being uncaring, prejudiced against the poor, disrespectful of human rights, social Darwinists, nose-up elitists or worse.

Businesses downtown face a constant battle against their customers being scared away and their employees intimidated. Vandals damage their buildings, druggies litter the downtown with used needles, shoplifters strip their shelves and homeless people sleep in their doorways.

The police can’t do much. In many cases, when they apprehend any of the above, the current legal system ensures the accused is back on the street and up to their old tricks literally before the paperwork is done.

Yes, everyone should have access to the public areas in our city, but that is a privilege extended by our community to ourselves, and it should come with some responsibilities. Foremost among them: behaving in a reasonable fashion while in public. Any actions or activities that threaten the safety of others should be banned, with sanctions appropriate to the offense and the offender. If you want to be a jerk, please do so somewhere other than city streets.

Enough, already. Time to use our spade to clear away the debris of decades of political correctness and be honest about what we can’t or could do.

We can’t just write these people off and dump them somewhere else. We could, however, insist on a modicum of good behaviour in public and legislate against panhandling and accosting people on the street.

We can’t force homeless people into shelters, but we could forbid sleeping on downtown sidewalks. We can’t expect sick people to make sound decisions about their drug use, but we could insist they get treatment if they prove to be a threat to themselves or others.

We can’t just lock up the mentally ill, but we could insist more treatment be made available to them, and institutionalize those who pose a threat.

We can’t incarcerate every petty criminal the cops apprehend, but we could make them work off their fines. We can’t arrest people for being intimidating, but we could draft new legislation aimed directly at those who bully or assault others.

We’ve seen what happens when people get rights without responsibilities and it is past time we tried something else. It is plain that what we’re doing now isn’t working.  Jim Chapman