Canada needs to get smart on crime by shifting from over-reliance on the punishment agenda to investment in the prevention agenda. It needs national crime prevention legislation (not tinkering with the Criminal Code), a board for crime prevention and victim rights, and transparent use of taxes and evaluation of outcomes to achieve this.
Canada´s current expensive reactive ¨punishment agenda¨ has been promoted by the ¨spin doctors¨ by using the most exceptional and sensational cases of violent victimization. This agenda has led to costly over-reliance on law enforcement and prisons, not what is reasonable in an advanced society nor what can be shown to stop violence or meet the needs of most victims. The prevention agenda is about investing now in the most cost effective and evidence based actions. These will enable millions more Canadian men, women and children, including Aboriginal Peoples, to live a better quality of life without the painful ¨consequences of violence on physical, mental, sexual and reproductive health¨. These will not need spin doctors but evidence that it has worked.
Interpersonal violence does $83 billion in harm to victims each year in Canada – equivalent to 5% of the Canadian GDP. We have the knowledge (see Smarter Crime Control) that investing as little as 1/10th of one percent of our GDP in proven and logical prevention strategies annually would reduce this harm from interpersonal violence to victims by 50% by 2025. Why not?
In 1985, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a land mark resolution 40/34. This recognized that crime is not just against the state but does harm to individual citizens – men, women, children – who are the victims of crime. The governments of the world resolved to reduce victimization, particularly by prevention, and implement the UN Declaration on Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power. Canada was an active supporter of that resolution. The UN General Assembly resolution was a clarion call to shift from over-reliance on a ¨reactive and punishment¨ agenda to a ¨victim centred and prevention agenda¨.
Sadly 30 years later, many deeply disturbing challenges remain, including:
• Rates of street violence in Canada (as measured by Statistics Canada in surveys) have stayed steady for the last 25 years – despite a drop in the number of crimes recorded by police, the doubling of expenditures on policing, provincial jails teeming with prisoners on remand, and continued tinkering to increase punishment in the most extreme cases in the criminal code;
• Unacceptable levels of intimate partner and sexual violence, whose widespread prevalence and often disabling impact – particularly on women and children – we have only just begun to recognize and understand;
• Too many efforts to control crime that are not reducing crime and in some cases use race based hunches instead of good governance methods or proven knowledge about what is effective violence prevention and evaluations to check success;
• A growing understanding that the disabling consequences of violence often last a lifetime and secondarily contribute to many recurring problems, such as those with alcohol and perpetrating violence;
• Only a patchwork of services for victims – dependent on local innovators more than adequate and stable government funding. Politicians using the mirage of bills of rights for victims without any real remedies or measured verification of whether victims have their basic needs met. State compensation for victims of violence that ¨adds insult to injury¨ as analysed by the Ontario Ombudsman.
Fortunately some successes have been achieved since 1985, including:
• A remarkable accumulation of knowledge on a significant number of strategies that are effective and cost effective in reducing violence (Waller, 2013, Smarter Crime Control). Yet key politicians are unaware of this knowledge, still act as if policing and prisons were the main way to reduce crime, and so are not delivering cost effective community safety to Canadians:
o Numerous studies identify negative life experiences in the development of young men that put them at risk to offending;
o Scientific evaluations of preventive interventions on these risk factors that demonstrate reductions in offending of 50% or more; The most cost effective are those that invest in social programs in high violence neighborhoods to help parents, outreach to youth, help young men complete school, mentor those drifting in crime and so on;
o Assessments of cost effectiveness of these prevention programs that suggest that reductions of 50% in harm can be achieved with an investment equivalent to only 10% of what is spent on reaction.
• An international consensus among organizations such as the World Health Organization that the necessary and essential conditions for successful implementation of violence prevention are:
o a responsibility centre to guide funding, promote training to standards, work to outcome targets and measure outcomes;
• Inspiring examples of cities in other countries that have reduced violence by 50% or more and a growing movement in Canada among some municipalities and our smart police services to build partnerships to reduce crime;
• Models in other countries that demonstrate what standards are achievable to provide basic services and rights for victims of crime. Specific recommendations (still mostly waiting for implementation) from retired Chief Justice McMurtry that provided affordable and logical ways to spike the Ontario Ombudsman´s critique of adding insult to injury.
It is time to shape Canadian policies to prevent inter-personal violence and provide basic services and rights for victims by passing a Canadian Crime Reduction and Victim Assistance Act that establishes a National Crime Reduction and Victim Assistance Board to spearhead the shift to an effective violence reduction and victim assistance agenda for Canada, through federal, provincial, territorial and municipal collaboration to establish standards, research and development, training and data.
It should establish consensus to set and evaluate targets for 2025:
1. Reduce street violence by 50% (as measured by modern victimization surveys and homicide rates) – eg 250 fewer young men killed and thousands fewer injured who will not enter hospital emergency rooms;
2. Reduce the number of women and children who are victims of intimate partner and sexual violence by 50% (measurable inter alia by surveys adapted from the CDCP National Intimitate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey);
3. Increase by 50% the number of victims of crime, abuse of power and terrorism who demonstrably receive support, reparation and rights consistent with standards such as the model European Union Directive and the modest US Federal Crime Victims Rights Act (measurable through surveys as proposed by McMurtry and the International Association of Chiefs of Police);
4. Make the compelling case and so ensure investment of 1/10th of 1% of Canadian GDP – about $1.6 billion – to achieve these goals. This would reduce harm to victims by $40 billion and simultaneously reduce the need for continued growth in the $21 billion spent on policing, courts and incarceration. Stemming the demand for unnecessary policing and prisons could hold costs at current levels and save $6 billion a year in wasted taxes by 2025.
But the most compelling argument must be the many, many more Canadian men, women and children, including Aboriginal Peoples, who will live a better quality of life without the ¨consequences of being victims of violence on physical, mental, sexual and reproductive health¨.
These notes were presented to the Town Hall meeting on Violence Prevention organized by Prevention of Violence Canada on May 25 in Vancouver at the Annual Conference of the Canadian Public Health Association.
For further information on sources: see Waller, Irvin, Smarter Crime Control: A Guide to Safer Futures for Citizens, Communities, and Politicians, Rowman and Littlefield, 2014, http://bit.ly/1av9GHF and contact email@example.com.