Mayoral candidate Sheilagh O’Leary’s first response to the mayor’s committee on crime prevention: “Election time,” was indeed the correct one. (The Telegram, June 26, “Mayor’s crime committee gets OK from council.”)
The fact that she modified her stand not only showed common sense but political savvy as well. The first proponent of the advisory committee — the Ward 2 hopeful — was also being politically astute by raising the idea in the first place because it is simply an issue that grabs everyone’s attention.
I am amazed at the mayor’s effrontery by adopting this committee simply because Dennis O’Keefe was on council years before he was ever mayor and he’s been mayor for the last four years. During his time as councillor, St. John’s probably had one of the highest rates of break-ins of any city of its size in Canada. During his time as mayor the rate probably decreased slightly, but that, it seems to me, was more to do with security systems than any effort on the part of the council, or the province for that matter.
My point is that one of the most psychologically damaging criminal acts has been for years one of the most pervasive in this city, yet there has not even been a task force to address it. Now we are to have a committee to address crime, period.
The mayor is not serious; he can’t be. After all this time on council he has discovered crime in St. John’s. Personally I go back to the time of Jakey’s Gin, that is Jakey of Devon Row. Back then, if you bought one of Jakey’s religious tracts for about $5 to $7 he’d give you a bottle of rum or gin as a goodwill gesture! Close by, prostitutes sang out to homesick sailors or other “Jacks” bound homeward from their jobs on Water Street. It seems that crime, like the poor, will always be with us.
But alas, and sadly for all of us, crime has gone big time in St. John’s and in this province in general. To eliminate crime here we would have to clean up Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and probably Vancouver, because the drug and prostitution businesses that thrive in this town surely have their roots in other cities of Canada, if not the U.S. and Europe.
The committee idea has no traction. It is a dog that will not hunt and an election issue that is not an issue. Some poor misguided soul takes a gun and shoots up a residence by mistake; someone else is killed in a drug deal gone bad, and likewise with the firebombing, but to be shouting, “Crime! Crime! Crime!” is nothing but political balderdash.
One final point: There are major issues in this city that need the attention of our council. The taxes that will be hiked again next year; the need for a full-time council; the changes needed in the City of St. John’s Act; the study that development plans need before it is too late altogether; transportation on a regional basis; garbage — ditto; policing — ditto; firefighting — ditto. An advisory committee on crime is political pablum and a distraction.
The roots of crime are incredibly complex. The issues of governance, justice and law are explosive and divisive, as was seen this past winter when our government made cuts to the Justice Department. It is known, however, that poverty, drug addiction, and mental health are major factors that need addressing when considering criminal activity. I would suggest that if council is foolhardy enough to pursue this, these are the first issues that the new mayor’s committee will have to address. My take on this is that the committee will have neither the expertise, the funding, nor the will (post-election) to go anywhere near addressing these issues.
To paraphrase the mayor himself in his summation: it is just another advisory committee like all the others. And I add: and probably would be — if it ever sees the light of day— just as effective!
Wayne Norman writes from St. John’s.