Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Protest flies in the face of reality

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The timing of a rally at the legislature Tuesday to protest the provincial NDP's support for the federal crime bill couldn't have been much worse. The rally -- attended mostly by the John Howard Society and its partners -- received minimal coverage and was largely overshadowed by the Occupy folks, who have their own gripe with the NDP after being denied use of the legislature's bathrooms.

And then there are the real-life crime stories that surely washed away the rally's painted placards.

And, odd as it may seem, Quebec is held by organizers as a beacon of sensibility on the controversial crime file. La Belle Province has all but promised to ignore the fed's proposals. But, come on -- has Quebec ever been a province to look to for guidance on crime?

Allegations continue to abound in that province about mob control of government infrastructure projects.

Lawyers in Montreal are looking over their shoulders after one of their colleagues (the third in a year) was beaten with a baseball bat outside his home. The lawyer had been representing members of the Hells Angels.

It was in Quebec, during the decades-long slide in crime we hear so much about, that a 1990s biker war claimed scores of lives, including that of an 11-year-old boy, killed by a bombing, one of 80.

It was Quebec where organized crime ordered the execution of prison guards, one of which, the murder of Diane Lavigne, was allegedly carried out to terrorize police.

It wasn't until law enforcement brought the hammer down that any semblance of control was regained.

Opponents of the federal Conservative bill are prone to painting those behind bars as a bunch of misunderstood, marginalized individuals who never had a chance and who have landed in jail, a place sure to make a bad situation worse.

Seldom is there any thought that organized crime and gangs are alive and operating like well-oiled machines behind prison walls.

Seldom is there any thought that some criminals have absolutely no intention of changing and relish protests on their behalf to make the inconvenience of jail shorter and nicer.

It was reported last week that gang members in Stony Mountain Institution got carried away disciplining one of their own and killed him. "Jurors are expected to hear plenty of evidence about the inner workings of the gang, especially behind bars," the report said.

On Tuesday, Winnipeggers read yet again of an innocent fellow cut down in a gang-bravado killing. One of the killers, a youth, was sentenced to a measly seven months of time served. The victim was minding his own business on a sunny Saturday afternoon when he was set upon.

A question that needs to be asked is how many times had the young killer caught a consequence-free break from the legal system that left him with a sense of invincibility, so out of sync with community mores that he could graduate to homicide.

Provincial court Judge Brent Stewart reluctantly imposed the nothing sentence as he tried to explain that the Youth Criminal Justice Act restricts him from using principles such as denunciation and deterrence.

While rally protesters down at the Leg tried to make the case that the crime bill will take away a judge's discretion, Stewart sees it differently, at least in this case. "It's unfortunate," the judge said. "This would be a case to really send a strong message of general deterrence to the many gang members wandering the streets of Winnipeg that long-term jail is the response by the courts to gang bullying and violence."

He went on to say he expects major proposed changes contained in the omnibus bill will soon give justice officials more power to impose appropriate punishment in these cases.

The often-made argument is that prevention is more beneficial than locking the gate after the horse is out.

Fair enough. But we're not starting from zero. The left-swinging pendulum of the past has produced real danger that must be conquered as part of a balanced plan.

Boston, for example, is a city that argues its multi-pronged prevention techniques have been successful in combating gang violence. And like any successful undertaking of this nature, police armed with the right legislative tools are part of the success. In fact, the Boston Strategy to Prevent Youth Violence tells us specifically that, "when levels of gang violence are high, strict enforcement of the terms of probation, with jail sentences for violations, helps to get kids off the street and out of trouble."

Hmmm... sounds about right.

Robert Marshall is a retired

Winnipeg police detective.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 12, 2011 J6

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