Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Banning knives futile

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Winnipeggers are more likely to become victims of a knife assault than other Canadians, Statistics Canada reported this week, prompting police Chief Keith McCaskill to declare that maybe there ought to be a law against carrying a knife in public. In Winnipeg, 10 per cent of crime victims were attacked with knives, compared to six per cent in Canada.

But the knife-crime rate, StatsCan notes, reflects this province's higher violent crime incidence, not any particular affinity criminals here have with blades.

The Criminal Code generally proscribes the use of a knife as a weapon, wielded to harm or threaten someone.

The law in Canada reflects the fact that restricting knives in general would impinge upon the use of a ubiquitous tool found in households, used also by tradespeople, hunters, gardeners and sporting enthusiasts.

Chief McCaskill's problem is with those knives that are in the possession of those likely to commit crime, and so he is intrigued by suggestions of Saskatoon's police chief, who has called upon the legislature to give police the ability to seize knives they think may be used in a crime.

The Saskatchewan government has not done that, reflecting the fact that it is tough to separate tool from weapon, even for an officer of the law, and giving police that much discretion would likely infringe the rights of citizens.

That is why the Criminal Code proscribes the use of weapons, regardless of what they look like.

Aside from the difficulty of separating the criminal knives from the useful ones, banning or seizing them on the street will have limited effect, at best, at reducing the toll on victims.

StatsCan found that about half of the stabbings happened between acquaintances and most of them were relatives. That suggests that many of the stabbings happened in the home, not in public.

To add one more wrinkle to the knife-ban plan, StatsCan's survey defined a knife as all piercing or cutting instruments, including broken bottles, screwdrivers and scissors.

There is a veritable toolbox full of potential weapons inside every house. Assuming they will be used for criminal purposes once taken onto the streets is too broad a reach of the law, which is what the Criminal Code already recognizes for knives, screwdrivers and scissors.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 1, 2010 A18

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