Thursday, July 31, 2008

Youth Crime as Election Issue

You can tell when an election is pending, the polititians trot out their favourite issue they know will generate public anger that they can convert into votes. Last week Jeff Martin, MP sent out a circular about youth getting away with serious crimes and how his party was cleaning things up. The myth about youth crime is seldom dealt with honestly by polititians or the media. I replied to Mr. Martin with the following.

"Your recent flyer "Age is no Excuse", indicates that you have extremely limited knowledge about crime, its root causes and what needs to be done to effect change. The problem is not, as your flyer suggests, the Youth Criminal Justice Act and the need for stiffer sentences. Crime is a societal problem with complex dynamics and has much to do with social disadvantage in all its forms. If you think stiffer sentences are the answer, look south. The United States imprisons more of its citizens than most countries in the world and its crimes rates continue to remain unaffected. The majority of those jailed are poor, black and have serious drug problems.

Here are some of the issues you might want to address if you are serious about youth (or any crime):

1. Child poverty

2. Lack of educational opportunities (high tuition costs, poor granting programs)

3. Lack employment opportunities for unskilled workers (or skilled ones for that matter)

4. Lack of support for children in need of assistance to stay in school (remediation services, psychological services, literacy programs etc.)

5. Poor cohesive communities - poor neighbourhoods breed disenfranchisement

6. Racial and social intolerance - (the use of the words "thugs" and "punks" in your flyer shows a serious lack of compassion and tolerance)

7. Services to address addictions issues - crack cocaine is a serious problem, and rather than treat the issue as one of public health, your party prefers to demonize its victims rather than address the mental health problems of the user. These addicted kids are the ones who will be filling our jails under your strategy.

Your flyer asks which party is "on the right track?" I know which party is the least likely to put resources into the things that matter in dealing with youth crime. We've seen it here in Ontario at the Provincial level, when Harris attacked vulnerable people with his policies, rather than the real problems facing our communities.

Barry Cull"
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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Joys and Trials

There is a truth about canoeing that the beautiful places of solitude are one difficult portage longer than most people are prepared to make. Nellie. Lake is one such place; the 1450 metre uphill hike from Murray is a real trial.

Jack Kornfield states that the trials in our lives are our teachers, and need to be invited in with willingness and acceptance. Today's portage provided a chance to practice being in the moment and not wanting to be somewhere else.
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Shedding the layers of urban attachments takes time. With repeated journeys the time gets shorter and a ride on the Big Canoe across the Bay sure helps. A highlight of the crossing is Flowerpot island.

(I left for Killarney Park on Tuesday - bound for Nellie Lake. This is the highest and clearest lake in the Park. It can be reached from the west end of the park, near the North Channel of Georgian Bay)

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Sunset Over Nellie

A late afternoon paddle revived the spirit. The reward was the sighting of a doe at the water's edge.

The sunset was a little disappointing given that the clouds rolled in at the last minute.
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Monday, July 28, 2008


Arrived at the dock by e10:15. The day is sunny and clear. Promises to be a clear sailing.
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Killarney Bound

Killarney Park is considered the crown jewel of Ontario's provincial parks. It is situated on the north shore of Georgian Bay and encompasses the LaCloche range of hills. These white quartzite hills are the remnants of an ancient mountain range; they are dotted with the clear blue lakes and expanses of boreal forest. I headed for Nellie Lake in the park's west end - the highest lake in the park and the clearest. The lake is separated from the lower lakes of the west section by a 1400 metre portage up hill over rugged terrain. It is an effort to get there.

I'm going to try to post some blogs from my cell-phone so stay tuned.

Friday, July 25, 2008


There has been a significant rise in the number of people living on the streets in cities across North America. Generally, municipalities view the problem as one of aesthetics, it looks bad and it is a nuisance to descent people trying to navigate past the panhandlers.

We may ask, though, "who are the homeless and how did they come to be here in such high numbers? Perhaps, more importantly we may ask, "what can be done about the problem?" In his TED talk, Daniel Goleman, offers some thoughts about the nature of compassion and provides some insight into the problem. Goleman states that recent studies indicate that over 90% of people who live on the street have psychiatric problems. He goes on to urge a mindful approach to seeing others through our busy lives and unexamined assumptions.

I came across a wonderful resource in my research into the topic of homelessness. In 2003 the Center for Urban Community Services published a document on supportive housing for the homeless. In chapter 1 they provide a history of the policies over the past that have resulted in the increase in the mentally ill living on the streets.

The trends have been:

1. The discharge of large numbers of people from psychiatric hospitals since the 1960's. The trend toward de-institutionalization and the lack of availability of community resources has been a major contributing factor.

2. The decrease in stock of single room occupancy units in the 1970's . These units, in older hotels, provided affordable housing to psychiatric patients and others. Urban renewal projects has meant the disappearance of these housing stock as cities seek to get rid of what some considered "eyesores" and the magnets of urban problems.

3. Diminishing government benefits, such as disability pensions.

4. The advent of AIDS.

5. Reduction of job opportunities for unskilled workers in an ever-increasing information -based economy.

A movement to reverse these trends has been in the offing since the early 90's. Supportive housing offers the best alternative to dealing with the problem of homelessness. In the next few weeks I hope to review what this movement looks like and how it is likely to result in a compassionate community.