Roy Green: Addressing urban anarchy


Wanton destruction by the violently self-indulgent. Thuggery with total disregard for a social contract developed over centuries.

The riots in London and other U.K. population centres will, unless sweeping and fundamental change is engaged, have provided a repulsive template for those who place little or no value on respect for the safety or property of others.

Video images of sections of the British capital in flames just weeks ago bore a troubling resemblance to similar scenes captured following bombing raids by the German Luftwaffe in the Second World War. An extreme comparison? I might have thought so too had I not by chance switched from televised news coverage of the contemporary London carnage to a program detailing the Battle of Britain.

Make no mistake, there is a battle for Britain underway. Speaking with several friends who call London home, as well as Lord Christopher Monckton, former advisor to then U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, a picture of the disconnected among Britain’s youth emerged.

They spoke of a values challenged generation of which little was demanded as far as societal participation is concerned. And although expressing disgust with the events which nightly tore at the fabric of English society, none was particularly surprised that the carnage occurred.

As the smoke began to clear, authorities fought back. Hundreds of arrests and charges were followed by British courts operating 24/7. Determined-appearing political leaders issued challenges, particularly to parents of rioters.

Enough? Not nearly. Arrests, charges, and convictions will serve short-term requirements, but likely little more than that. One accused rioter sneering into microphones suggested he was prepared for a perhaps 10-month prison sentence of which he expected to serve 10 days. A joke he said.

At least though, he and his ilk were facing immediate judicial action, something regrettably absent following this year’s rioting in Vancouver.

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark’s public determination looters would face courts without delay was met by legal opinion such an initiative would be both unconstitutional and impossible. Too few judges, too few courts.

Canada’s Federal Minister for Public Safety Vic Toews found the unconstitutional argument deplorable and wondered why if the British judicial system could keep its courts operational 24/7 a similar action wasn’t entertained in British Columbia. Few in the public arena would likely challenge Toews’ perspective.

Largely, youth violence though isn’t restricted this year to London and Vancouver. In Philadelphia, roaming gangs have been terrifying neighbourhoods assaulting complete strangers. Mayor Michael Nutter of the City of Brotherly Love in turn declared a nightly curfew for young people without parental accompaniment. Violation results in a fine for parents.

What’s the cause of gratuitous and destructive behaviour of the type witnessed in London, Vancouver, and Philadelphia? No multi-year, million dollar study required here. The breakdown of the traditional family structure, a now multi-decade series of obtuse initiatives such as social promotion in our schools and watering down the punishment reality for criminals will do just fine.

The traditional one income, two parent family has become less than fashionable and often defined as unproductive. A woman who chooses a stay-at-home mom role becomes the subject of derision, or pitied as someone who fails to shed the yoke of being career-less.

Where does much of such criticism originate? In on-air discussion, stay-at-home moms point to women in the labour force and with children in daycare. Yet polling in both Canada and the U.S. has repeatedly shown parents from different socio-economic backgrounds, by majority, would prefer the one parent stays home to raise the children formula.

A Vanier Institute for the Family study from 2005 ranked Canadian parents preference for care of pre-school children this way. A parent providing such care led the list, followed by a grandparent, a relative, daycare in the home and ranked only fifth was a national daycare program. A Strategic Council poll from 2002 showed 76 per cent of two-income families who used the childcare option would prefer the one parent stays home model.

Government policy though has made the two parent, one income reality increasingly challenging. Where both parents are in the labour force daycare expenses are tax deductible, while child rearing costs for the one income family are not.

The social promotion formula fundamental to education policy requires a child be advanced from one year to the next without demonstrating an understanding of academic fundamentals taught. This begins in the earliest years of the public education experience and can result in students graduating from high school barely, if at all able to read their certificates.

Many employers reading this may agree. Not long ago I spoke with a Canadian businessman who told of paying for literacy courses for university graduates in his employ.

Why social promotion? Its supporters argue to require a child prove academic proficiency and to delay a child’s scholastic progress until such proficiency is achieved is damaging to self-esteem. Utter nonsense. What damages self-esteem and can lead to the genesis of objectionable behaviour is for a child to feel scholastically adrift among his or her peers.

Paul Valas, as CEO of the Chicago Public School System, ended social promotion in schools under his jurisdiction. Valas also put in place the largest afterschool and summer reading programs in the United States. Student test scores improved in almost each academic indicator and violence decreased.

As far as the soft on crime justice system is concerned, the youthful London rioter who laughed off consequences of being charged criminally has reason to do so. He will likely receive what he expects. Little more than official admonition for participating in vicious looting, arson and violence.

Among many of Vancouver’s younger rioters who pushed the city into anarchy, this nation’s youth criminal justice laws are likely little more than a joke and for adults among the mob there it won’t be missed that for 40 years a comforting for criminals philosophy has guided Canada’s justice system.

On October 7, 1971, then federal Solicitor General Jean-Pierre Goyer in a Pierre Trudeau led Liberal government delivered fateful these words in Parliament, “For too long a time now, our punishment oriented society has cultivated the state of mind that demands that offenders, whatever their age and whatever the offence, be placed behind bars. Even nowadays, too many Canadians object to looking at offenders as members of our society and seem to disregard the fact that the correctional process aims at making the offender a useful and law abiding citizen, and not any more an individual alienated from society and in conflict with it. Consequently, we have decided from now on to stress the rehabilitation of individuals rather than the protection of society.”

Rehabilitation is a worthy goal. However as a good friend who spent more than 20 years in Special Handling Units of maximum security prisons and scoffed at prison rehabilitation programs told me, “You can’t rehabilitate what isn’t habilitated in the first place.

Serge LeClerc habilitated himself from organized crime gang leader to a man who spent almost 20 additional years assisting youth in ridding themselves of drug habits and ending their objectionable behaviour.

How well are the rehabilitation programs in Canada’s prison system working? A member of the inmates committee at Joyceville federal penitentiary made this statement during a broadcast from the prison, “We’re all doing life, two to four years at a time.”

At its core the question in London, Vancouver, Philadelphia and society at large is how to engage youth and instil a sense of community.

The solutions were developed over centuries and discarded only over the past three to four decades. 

Roy Green is a contributor to the National Post and the host of the Roy Green Show, a national program weekends on the Corus radio network.