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Crimes and misconceptions: from the amount of violence on our streets, to who or what's to blame for it, Canadians have got the wrong idea.

IN the dead of night on June 6, David Lucio's van careened down Picton Street in downtown London, Ont., with the retired police superintendent dead at the wheel--shot in the head by a .40-calibre Glock pistol. The killer, police inspector Kelly Johnson, Lucio's mistress until their split two days before, sat in the passenger seat and followed up her grisly crime by turning the gun on herself as the van smashed into her condo building.

The violent drama quickly filled headlines, but what might seem like a clear case of cold-blooded murder was portrayed by police brass and the media as simply two deaths of equally tragic proportions. "They were both good people," said Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Julian Fantino, carefully adding that "[Johnson] had the respect of a lot of people." Another retired superintendent, Rick Gillespie, said he was sad "for what happened to the two of them."

But Lucio's father, Doug, is furious at the depiction of his son's killer as a victim, and he contacted London newspapers to make his voice heard, despite his desire for privacy. "She killed him," he raged. "She murdered him--premeditated. Nobody's discussing that." Normally, a killer doesn't receive the type of sympathy Johnson has gotten, says Heidi Illingworth, executive director of the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime. "Maybe people think women can't do that sort of thing. We certainly see where [Lucio's] family is coming from," she says.

In the wake of Johnson's murder-suicide, the search for answers began with her job. A London Free Press news article held that police officers were ready culprits to commit suicide or violence, calling law enforcement a "high-pressure job that demands complete control." Dan Newman, a retired officer and mental health counsellor was quoted as saying, "If you write down the ... characteristics that go with policing ... it's not that illogical that there'd be suicide-homicides."

But data shows that police officers are actually less likely to commit suicide than civilians. Robert Loo, a retired clinical psychologist with the University of Lethbridge, found the number of suicides in the RCMP over 23 years to be less than half the average for civilian males. Similarly, "The Toronto Police Service has not had a suicide in more than 15 years," says Roger Dodson, manager of the Toronto Police Association's Employee and Family Assistance Program, despite facing the highest levels of gang activity in the country.

Richard Dolman, a researcher who has consulted with police forces in British Columbia, points out that suicides among officers are lower since "they have support systems for post-traumatic stresses," a factor Dodson agrees has made the difference in driving down suicides among Toronto police officers. Johnson had access to several different counselling services, and as a high-ranking officer, she undoubtedly knew about them, says Amanda Pfeffer, spokesperson for the London force. "We have a 24/7 critical stress management system--access to counselling services outside the force, totally paid for," she says. Still, the London Free Press instinctively called for counselling services to be improved alongside tougher psychological testing.

Inevitably, Johnson's weapon also faced public scrutiny. She wasn't supposed to be in possession of her gun when she shot Lucio, a fact that was highlighted repeatedly. "Johnson's police pistol, which she wasn't authorized to have, was found in the van," one story read. Another mentioned that the London police rely on the honour system with officers and their guns, implying that Johnson's crime could have been avoided had the force enacted stricter gun controls. In response to Lucio's family's demand for an inquest, London police Chief Murray Faulkner resorted to scapegoating the weapon, and is letting an outside agency examine department procedure regarding off-duty access to guns.

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However, statistics suggest that any gun control measures are unlikely to make any serious dents in crime. For starters, guns are not the weapons of choice for a majority of murderers. "While a third of the homicides in 2005 were by use of a firearm, 30 per cent of homicide victims were stabbed to death, 22 per cent were beaten, and 7 per cent were strangled or suffocated," reports Statistics Canada's Homicide in Canada, 2005 survey. With Johnson determined to execute her ex-lover, and with plenty of options to choose from aside from her service sidearm, the availability of a firearm likely was not the determining factor in her decision to carry out her plan.

Gun crimes, however, capture the attention of the public in ways other attacks do not. In Vancouver in late May, for instance, 13-year-old Chris Poeun was stabbed to death in a brawl with other youngsters outside a science museum. The case attracted little attention, but the May 23 shooting of 15-year-old Jordan Manners at his high school, C.W. Jefferys Collegiate Institute in Toronto, filled headlines across the country, attracted thousands of mourners, and led to politicking by Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, NDP Leader Jack Layton and Toronto Mayor David Miller as they capitalized on the public's fear and called for stricter gun control laws. "Let's call on governments to pass the laws to stop the guns from coming across the borders," Layton said, ignoring the Criminal Code and the Firearms Act, which already outlaw gun smuggling.

Experts say that while it may be understandable for people to want to take action when a tragedy occurs, basing laws on isolated incidents is ultimately futile. At Montreal's Dawson College last year, for instance, Kimveer Gill wounded 19 individuals and killed 18-year-old Anastasia DeSousa during his September rampage. This past June 15, alongside DeSousa's parents, Quebec Premier Jean Charest introduced legislation dubbed "Anastasia's Law," banning firearms on public transport and in educational institutions--despite current laws mandating that firearms be kept in the dwelling of the owner.

"I think all of us who experienced the events of this tragedy close to a year ago, in the aftermath thought that there must be something positive that comes of this," Mr. Charest said. Ontario Attorney General Michael Bryant was also on hand and simplistically quipped, "No gun, no gun crime; no gun, no tragedy."

But since very few killings actually take place at schools, restrictions on guns at educational institutions are more symbolic than substantive. Just two per cent of homicides in 2005 occurred in public institutions of any type, including high schools, hospitals and even prisons. In the words of Statistics Canada's 2005 homicide survey: "Similar to previous years, almost two-thirds (61 per cent) of homicide incidents in 2005 occurred in a private residence."

The primary culprits responsible for the public's heightened fear of shootings are the local media, says Barry Glassner, author of Culture of Fear: Why Americans are Afraid of the Wrong Things. "They have this motto: 'If it bleeds, it leads.' So people have this perception that crime is going on all around them," says Glassner, a sociology professor at the University of Southern California. He also points to politicians who exploit fear of crime as an election issue, and to marketing agencies and companies that sell home and car alarms to the fearful.

If citizens feel unsafe, says criminology professor Gary Mauser of Simon Fraser University, it is wise to look at patterns among criminals themselves rather than only the weapons and methods they are using. "It's young men who are committing these crimes, groups of them," he says. By all accounts, the greatest trend in criminality has been the rise of gangs. In 1995, just 3.6 per cent of homicides were gang-related. In 2005, that number had multiplied to 16.3 per cent. Moreover, these were not accidents or crimes of passion but the "settling of accounts."

Additionally, random acts of violence in which normally law-abiding individuals such as Johnson just snap, are exceptionally rare. In 2005, for instance, almost two-thirds of adults accused of homicide had a previous Canadian criminal record. Among those adults with a criminal history, 62 per cent had a prior conviction for a violent offence, leading critics to suggest we need to return to a more traditional model of blame rooted in individual accountability.

Cultural patterns have also proven valuable in predicting violent crime. The 2006 Criminal Intelligence Service Canada annual report says that in Alberta, for example, "Most street gangs obtain illicit drugs from Asian criminal groups and outlaw motorcycle gangs." About Quebec it says, "There are approximately 50 established and emerging street gangs identified, most of which are ethnically homogenous, such as those of Caribbean or Hispanic composition."

According to Michael Chettleburgh, author of Young Thugs: Inside the Dangerous World of Canadian Street Gangs, 80 per cent of gangs in Canada are comprised of minority cultures. "Canada's immigration levels went from about 100,000 to 250,000 under Brian Mulroney, but we didn't have new social services to help the immigrants," says Chettleburgh, who wrote the 2002 Canadian Police Survey on Youth Gangs for the federal government. He says when immigrants are unable to integrate into Canadian society, their sons disproportionately choose to become involved in gangs. But when individuals publicly address concerns about cultural patterns among criminals, they are subjected to a torrent of abuse from the enforcers of political correctness. Gwyn Morgan, former president and CEO of EnCana, was rejected as head of a new review board for public appointments in June 2006 by the House of Commons government operations and estimates standing committee. NDP MP Peggy Nash moved to veto Morgan and justified it using a December 2005 speech Morgan had made that "raised highly controversial comments as he singled out the Jamaican and Chinese communities for [the] major increase in crime and gun violence in Toronto and Calgary."

In the speech, Morgan said "runaway violence [was] driven mainly by Jamaican immigrants in Toronto, or the all-too-frequent violence between Asian and other ethnic gangs right here in Calgary." But despite the data from the CISC affirming Morgan's statements, his concerns were brushed aside and labelled racist.

Morgan is blunt about the matter now. "Political correctness is a disease, and until we tackle that, we won't be able to tackle our other problems," he says. He adds that our sound-bite culture avoids any in-depth analysis of issues and leads to the pursuit of quick-fix solutions, instead of finding the roots of the problem: the choices of individuals.

Personal accountability, however, is unlikely to garner many headlines for politicians promoting a new law. And despite evidence identifying individual choices and actions as the true culprits in violent crime, it remains popular to fault circumstances, inanimate objects or inadequate laws. But one thing is clear: Kelly Johnson wasn't deterred by current laws when she chose to shoot David Lucio. More laws are unlikely to deter others like her.
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Title Annotation:CRIMINOLOGY
Author:Smith, Jordan Michael
Publication:Western Standard
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jul 30, 2007
Words:1778
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