It is time for Canada to be a beacon for sound and compassionate policies to reduce its rates of violence, violence against women, and homicide below the average of other advanced nations. It is time for Canada to reduce those rates for Indigenous peoples to the rates for for non-indigenous.
This is more politically possible than we think. We have the knowledge. We have government commitments. We just need to help governments to act intentionally now to invest in applying that knowledge to ¨upstream¨ prevention that is people-centred and evidence based. We need them to change from continuing to add more to the many billions they have added to reacting to problems rather than solving them. Instead, they need to make up for the lag in prevention by investing more modest but still billions in stopping the problems in the first place.
Some Canadian Political Commitments
Canada´is committed to the UN Sustainable Development Goals . These require by 2030 a significant reduction of all forms of violence and homicide (SDG 16) and the elimination of violence against women (SDG 5).
The Minister of Justice has said she wants to tackle causes, multiply restorative justice and reduce incarceration, particularly for Indigenous peoples.
In 2015, the federal government mandate letters to its ministers, including the Minister of Justice and Minister of Public Safety, explicitly included that Ministers were to:
- ¨be informed by performance measurement, evidence, and feedback from Canadians¨
- ¨direct our resources where they can have the greatest impact on Canadians.¨
The Minister of Justice´s letter also refers to ¨protecting the rights of Canadians¨ ¨with the least interference with the rights of Canadians¨ … ¨increasing safety of communities¨ and ¨getting value for money¨ but without as yet explicit mention of today´s knowledge on violence prevention.
Greatest Need for Impact to Make Canada More Peaceable
The 2014 Statistics Canada survey criminal victimization in Canada shows one property crime too many happened for every 7 Canadian adults and one violent crime for every 15 Canadian adults. If you exclude the USA, Canada has a higher rate of homicide than any other G7 country (see figure 1) – double the average for those G5 countries.
The impact of violence on its victims is significant. Loss, injury, pain and trauma to victims is still too often overlooked by Canadian governments. In Ontario, a report described the system of compensation for victims of violence as adding insult of injury with the government still not acting on comprehensive remedies recommended by a recent Chief Justice. In Canada, funding for services and legally enforceable rights for victims lag most other advanced nations. The accumulated losses, injury and trauma are estimated at $55 billion each year.
Canada does not have a national survey on intimate partner and sexual violence similar to the model provided by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. It has measured sexual violence in some schools and in some universities. One source talks of the silent health epidemic with rates of one in five adult women have been raped and one in four victims of domestic violence. Whatever the precise rates, Canada´s public health officer calls it a serious public health issue. The negative effects of family violence “extend far beyond physical injuries and include poor mental health, psychological and emotional distress, suicide, and increased risk of chronic diseases and conditions such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes.” Estimated costs exceed $5 billion.
The homicide rate for Indigenous persons is over 7 times that of non-indigenous (see figure 2 and 3). Over 100 Indigenous men and 40 women are murdered each year. The pain, loss, injury and trauma from the violence are individually tragic and cumulatively exceed $5 billion a year with unmeasured long term consequences for health and addictions.
Our Resources Not Going to Greatest Impact
The punishment agenda based on making the punishment fit the crime using cops, courts and corrections aiming to catch, convict and incarcerate young vulnerable men is not working. In the USA, political leaders have described their much more expansive and expensive system of reactive policing and mass incarceration as broken because it is not effective and is discriminatory.
Canadians pay $22 billion and rising to respond – to pick up the pieces when this outdated system fails – $14 billion on policing alone – $6 billion more a year than in 2000.
When you over-spend on police, you also get:
• criminal courts so backlogged that serious prosecutions are abandoned,
• local jails are overcrowded with exceptionally high numbers of persons awaiting trial,
• growth in solitary confinement that has become the norm just to avoid violence behind bars,
• cities facing one of the worst illicit drug epidemics in Canadian history by reacting with multiplying safe injection and safe consumption sites.
Worse, you get what the Federation of Canadian Municipalities has stated as the unsustainable growth in the costs of policing and public safety is crowding out early intervention and prevention.
Informed by Evidence equals Early Prevention
The evidence shows how it is early intervention and prevention that gives the greatest impact on victimization and so peace. Much more impact comes from the prevention agenda of investing upstream in people centred strategies to help vulnerable populations.
Today’s research – the evidence – is clear that the most effective and cost effective way to deal with crime is prevention. Every major prestigious organisation agrees from the World Health Organisation to the UK College of Policing. Even the US Department of Justice confirms this.
The book Smarter Crime Control guides politicians to actions based on this evidence. It confirms that reductions in violence against women, street violence and homicides by 50% are all achievable within a five to ten year period by investments in early prevention. More is possible.
The evidence shows how crime and violence are reduced sustainably through investments in people such as youth outreach, positive parenting programming, and social interventions in emergency rooms. Modifications in school curricula to make achievement in life skills and healthy relationship skills stop violence. Why not make them as important and measured as writing, reading and arithmetic?
Having the greatest impact
The cost effectiveness of investments upstream indicate social returns on investment of 7 times or more as measured in reduced need for reaction and reduced harm to victims.
There are examples of cities such as Glasgow, Minneapolis and Winnipeg that have achieved 50% reductions within a five year period when they followed a prevention plan based on a diagnosis of the problem and focus on outcomes.
Informed by feedback from the Public equals Early Prevention
Twice as many Canadians want more investment in education and prevention than want spending on more police lawyers and prisons. Yet, the federal and provincial/territorial governments are content to spend more and more on reaction and punishment and not enough on prevention and caring.
So How Can We help Canada to Shape its World
Canada must shape its world or someone else will. The central challenge is how to get Canada to shift from a punishment to a prevention agenda from overpaying for arrest and jail for young men to investment in the futures of vulnerable people and the safety of Canadians.
For every person hacking at the roots, there are a thousand hacking at the branches. The criminal justice crisis in Canada confirms this adage. We pay for more police, more prosecutors, more judges, more guards, more jail cells but not for preventing criminal careers starting or avoiding crime victimization.
Diversion from a Broken System
Cities are increasingly turning to partnerships between different sectors so that problems that come to the police are shifted to more appropriate agencies.
Restorative justice is a system for resolving crime issues between victims and offenders, often with community involvement.
These are just a few of the ways of shifting from cops, courts and corrections to solutions – even if after the fact – that have been shown to reduce crime.
Canada a Beacon for Compassionate Community Safety
Can Canada become once again a beacon for the world? How can we help the Minister of Justice to succeed in tackling causes, promoting restorative justice and reducing incarceration. How can we help her to follow her mandate letter to achieve these?
She has launched an inquiry into inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls – an important issue as 40 women are murdered or go missing each year. She has started to eliminate some of the penalties that Harper imposed – tinkering on the fringe unless you are the offender sentenced to the minimum penalty.
The Minister of Justice needs to be persuaded that her mandate letter and her vision must be joined. How about setting performance measurement targets for 2030 for which there are measurable outcomes:
1. Reduction of Canadian rates of violence and homicide through investments in effective prevention to:
a. The average homicide rate for G5 (G7 less Canada and USA) (see Table 1)
b. Indigenous homicide rates at same as non-Indigenous (see Table 2)
c. Rates of intimate partner and sexual violence measured in 2030 to be half those measured in 2020 (eg using a Canadian intimate partner and sexual violence survey)
2. Increase of Restorative Justice
a. 50% reduction in cases in front of criminal courts
b. 50% of all charges against Indigenous persons resolved through restorative justice.
a. 50% reduction of Canadian rates of incarceration to average for G5 (G7 less Canada and USA) (see Table 1)
b. Reduction of Indigenous rates of incarceration to the same as non-Indigenous. (see Table 3)
How to Achieve These Targets
1. Upstream Investment in Social Prevention
The most important is to allocate sustained funding upstream to both general social policies and particularly the prevention targeted to social problem situations that will bring results by 2030. If Canada made up the lag in social investment of $2 billion a year to proven upstream people centred prevention, the evidence suggests that the targets above are achievable. NB Canada added $6 billion a year to policing from 2000 to 2015 but added no sustainable funding to targeted social investment!
2. A National Crime Prevention Strategy
Canada’s federal, provincial, and territorial governments should fund themselves and recognize the vital role of Canadian
municipalities within a national crime prevention strategy and offer a permanent, sustained, and flexible matched
funding program (similar to the Homelessness Partnering Strategy) for municipalities to resource
a) the collaborative community safety planning and implementation processes that guide strategic
investment in prevention as well as
b) significant investment in effective crime prevention programs
such as those enhancing positive futures for young vulnerable Canadians inspired by the accumulated
3. National Office for Crime Prevention and Community Safety
The challenge is how to get and sustain the change in how we deal with crime after many decades of spending more and more on reaction. Canada needs crime prevention legislation to ensure sustained re-investment in evidence based solutions to crime and victimization and collaborative actions across different sectors through a permanent Office for Crime Prevention.
A Crime Prevention Act would complement Police Acts and the Criminal Code and establish a high level Office responsible to:
a. Develop and foster the implementation of a long term crime prevention strategy with actions and outcome targets for the next five and ten years (to coincide with the Sustainable Development Goal targets on prevention of violence against women and violence and homicides);
b. Foster collaboration to achieve crime reduction targets between different sectors, such as education, labour, health, community services and policing, with a special emphasis on supporting work at the municipal level.
This opinion piece was prepared by Irvin Waller with research assistance from Audrey Monette and Jeff Bradley. The vision is based on the evidence in Irvin Waller (2013) Smarter Crime Control: A Guide to a Safer Future for Citizens, Communities and Politicians.