Violently bureaucratic

Halifax council discusses the Clairmont report on violence

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Crime rates across North America have been going down for about 20 years, and nobody knows why; neither individually nor collectively, factors like changes in demography, poverty rates, decreased drug use, taking lead out of the gas, policing strategies and the like do not explain the drop in crime.

But despite the overall reduction in crime, Halifax experienced a spike in high-profile random violence in the last few years, including a series of “swarmings” and brutal attacks on the Common. In response, mayor Peter Kelly contracted with criminologist Don Clairmont to study violence in Halifax and suggest policies to address it.

Clairmont’s subsequent report is a breath of fresh air; it analyzes the social dynamics of our society, zeroing in on poverty, racism and the frustrations facing disenfranchised youth as the root causes of crime. Clairmont then detailed 64 actions that governments should take, many of them challenging the status quo and requiring us to face uncomfortable truths about ourselves. Basically, Clairmont pointed out that a decent society that gives every citizen opportunity and respect is a less violent society.

Tuesday, police chief Frank Beazley brought a set of policies to council he said address Clairmont’s recommendations, all of them bureaucratic in nature. That’s understandable---Clairmont says such bureaucratic changes are necessary to get real policy changes rolling. But, as anyone who follows government knows, shuffling around the bureaucracy is the time-worn strategy for making uncomfortable recommendations go away and fall down the memory hole; I’ll reserve judgement on the city’s response to Clairmont’s report until I see real changes in how we deal with poverty and racism.

Politicians, however, aren’t waiting. A trainload of bullshit unloaded Tuesday at City Hall, as councillors congratulated themselves for being forward-thinking progressives and, with no evidence whatsoever, credited Beazley personally for the local version of the continent-wide drop in crime rates. (Please note that Beazley is not responsible for the recent gang war or the occasional table leg assault.)

There were just two welcome cracks in the charade. Councillor Jim Smith urged justice minister Cecil Clarke to make changes in prostitution laws, as called for by Clairmont. (Clarke responded with a nonsensical five-minute dronefest.) Councillor Jennifer Watts later followed up by pointing out Beazley isn’t moving forward with Clairmont’s recommendation #44, which says prostitutes can be protected from violence by creating sanctioned “stroll areas” and government facilitated brothels. (In his report, Beazley dismissed the suggestion with a curt “solicitation for the purposes of prostitution is a criminal offence.”)

So thus far, in response to Clairmont’s proposals, we’ve achieved a bit of paperwork shuffling, and the rejection of a challenging social policy. Bureaucracy, one; changing society, zero.

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