Canada has always been recognized as being one of the safest countries in the world, boasting exceptionally low murder and violent crime rates, particularly in comparison to our American counterparts. However, a recent rise in gun violence on the streets of Canada’s largest city has left many Canadians concerned about how safe our communities truly are.
On June 2, 2012, a shooting in one of Canada’s busiest shopping centres claimed the life of two individuals and left five others wounded. Just over a month later, tragedy struck again when a lone gunman opened fire at a neighbourhood block party, claiming the lives of another two individuals and injuring 20 others.
This recent series of events has led politicians and community leaders to engage in a number of debates regarding how best to deal with the issue of gun violence on our streets and in our communities. These debates have left many Canadians wondering whether we should advance tough-on-crime agendas that are centred around discipline and denunciation or whether investing in preventative solutions which are centred around rehabilitation and reintegration, would be a more effective path to follow.
As a member of the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, I have recently studied Bill C-10: Safe Streets and Communities Act and I am quite familiar with tough-on-crime agendas that call for mandatory minimum sentencing and which adopt short term solutions to violence and crime in our communities. However, having worked with many vulnerable populations I firmly believe that our time and resources would be better spent in addressing the issue of youth violence by investing in long-term preventative solutions and programs.
Something that all of the recent instances of gun violence have had in common is that they involve young Canadians. It is very commonly believed that tough-on-crime solutions, which place young offenders in prison, force offenders to be held accountable for their actions. However, this belief relies on the assumption that young offenders understand the concept of accountability. Moreover, we must also remain mindful that prisons are often considered to be schools where individuals learn more about violence and crime. I am of the opinion that adopting tough-on-crime solutions which rely on placing young offenders in prison, will fail to keep our streets and communities safe, simply because these young people will learn more about crime while serving their sentences and will therefore be more likely to reoffend upon their release.
If we want to keep our streets and communities safer, we need to commit ourselves to getting to the very root of the problem. It is my belief that we should be investing our resources not in building big prisons but rather in rehabilitation and reintegration programs that will in turn help vulnerable populations such as our youth, the mentally ill, and minorities and keep them from reoffending in the future.
Let us all remember that takes a village to raise a child, it takes a community to keep that child safe, and it takes a country to protect all of its citizens.