Tag Archives: Toronto

Copping Out is a Matter of Trust

By Jason Menard

How do you fix a system that won’t admit its broken? And when those systems are designed for our protection and benefit, how can we as a public trust them to act in that manner when we’re seeing so much evidence to the contrary.

The stories of Carly Finn and Stacy Bonds are just the latest in what appears to be continuing proof of the old adage “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Again, we must be cautious about judging actions for which we were not present – however, both of these just don’t pass the sniff test. Continue reading

London School Path Could Lead to Death

By Jason Menard

Violence in schools, unfortunately, is nothing new. What people should really be concerned about is how it’s only going to get worse due to the inertia of school officials.

On Wednesday, in Toronto, one student snapped. In retaliation to a prank gone wrong, a student allegedly overreacted and returned firecracker fire with a more lethal blow from a bullet. Those types of incidents are tough to avoid because one way or another that student would have snapped.

It’s not the extreme violence that we should concern ourselves with. It’s the rising tolerance of day-to-day aggression that our school system has come to accept – and, in some cases with its policies, encourage.

The school in London, ON, at which my seventh-grade son attends has a hands-off policy. Unfortunately, it’s a hands-off for the victim, not the victimizers. For students who are being bullied they’re trapped on both sides by fear – fear of the bullies, and fear of the school system punishing them for defending themselves.

Students who are prone to bullying are generally those who are more likely to abide by the rules – and fear the ramifications of disobeying them. Students who bully take pride in flaunting the lackadaisical approach of school administrators, knowing that any punishment certainly won’t match the crime. What’s worse, lying and deception is encouraged – and, in some cases, rewarded.

I turn to a recent example for illustrative purposes. During the course of one day, a student accidentally kicked a basketball into the chest of another boy. That was the extent of the transgression. However, the boy who was hit by the ball then stewed in his own juices, formulating a plan, and building his anger. At the end of the day, this boy walked out into the schoolyard, asked who the ball-kicker was, and – without warning or provocation – assaulted him.

Assault. Violent, malevolent, viscious.

Without giving the unsuspecting boy a chance to defend himself – or even be aware of the fact that a blow was coming – the child who had the ball accidentally kicked into him pounced upon the other boy, punching him repeatedly in the eye, at best oblivious to (or, at worse, completely aware of) the fact that the victim was wearing glasses.

In the end, the victimized boy was taken to the hospital and was told that he was lucky that nothing was broken. He suffered lacerations to the face and back, severe swelling and bruising around the eye, and an unhealthy dose of psychological trauma.

The assailant? One day suspension and a slap on the wrist. How? Because he lied. He told school officials and police officers that it was a mutual fight. Although he suffered some wounds due to defensive injuries, the fact of the matter was this was an assault. The police, in turn, were unable to progress any further.

One day off school. That’s it. That’s supposed to be a deterrent to kids in the future?

What’s worse, a crowd of students stood around watching the assault. No one stepped forward to break it up, or even to help. And then we wonder why school violence is rising?

Bullies will continue to bully until there are serious ramifications to their actions. And those who are bullied will continue to not fight back because they’re actually worried about the “no-touch” policies in place. So we have to get tough now unless we want the next school shooting to take place in The Forest City.

First, longer suspensions for fight instigators. Yes, there will always be schoolyard dust-ups as youth trying to carve their space and identities in this world come into conflict. But there are clear aggressors in most cases and they should be dealt with harshly. One day, three days is not enough. Make it hurt – and make it impact parents who refuse to understand the severity. One month out of school? That’s going to impact parents and child alike and will set the wheels in motion for change.

Punish those who stand around and do nothing. If a fight breaks out, the natural reaction should be to break it up. Two combatants can’t do anything against 30 or 40 kids. So if people decide to turn schoolyard fights into a spectator sport, then they should be sent to the sidelines – detention or suspension. By encouraging interventionist behaviour, schools will be able to prevent these fights from escalating into something worse.

Abolish the “no-touch” policies. They’re great in theory, but horrible in practice. I’ve heard several good kids say they are afraid to fight back because they’re going to get suspended. Where’s the common sense in that? Defending one’s self is a right, but through their policies, schools are taking it away from those who need it most. The meek, the studious, the bullied aren’t going to go against the rules, so why should they be hamstrung against aggressors who ignore the rules outright?

Bullying is real. Bullying is getting worse. And it’s only a matter of time until one of our own children lies dead from a bullet. As parents and teachers, we have the ability to affect change, but hiding behind established procedures and policies only serves to hurt those that need it most. School should be a safe refuge for all and the only way we can do that is to get tough on those who prey on the weak.

I refuse to accept that my son’s after-school activities could include a trip to the morgue. But if we keep on following the path we’ve defined, that’s where some unlucky parent will find themselves. And at that point, the community will rise up and the cries to get tough will be shouted from the rooftops!

But why do we have to wait? One dead child is one too many. Toronto and other communities have shown us where school violence can lead, so why must we follow that path? Let’s blaze a new trail – one along which students can feel safe about travelling.

2007© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Taking a City’s Pulse

By Jason Menard

Noted poet El DeBarge, before he plunged into the particular circle of Hell reserved for 80’s pop Jackson-wannabes, implored us all to feel the beat of the rhythm of the night. But how do you feel the beat when the city you live in has no pulse.

Recently I had the pleasure of spending two days in Toronto on a conference. Now, Hog Town’s not my favourite city in the world, but being in the heart of downtown for two days reminded me what a real city is like – and what I’m missing where I currently live.

No, I was not dancing ‘til the morning light – in fact, my dancing machine’s in bad need of an overhaul. But I did take the opportunity to walk – a hell of a long way, if you ask my feet. It was a practise that I used to engage in quite frequently living and working in Montreal.

There is a pulse to the city and you can tell the tourists not by the gaudy clothes or the slack-jawed, gaping stares as they look heavenwards at the steel and glass monstrosities that rise up before them. You can tell who they are by the fact that they don’t engage in the dance of the street. They’re unable to walk any distance without bumping into people, the become confused and double-back on their steps, and they generally get in the way of those who feel the rhythms of the city in their bones and march along in time.

Unfortunately, absence doesn’t just make the heart grow fonder, it makes one forget the notes that sing so sweetly for city dwellers.

Once I was able to walk the busy downtown streets of Montreal, along with thousands of dance partners as we emerged from our underground transportation blinking into the light of day. Huddling our jackets about us in winter or trying to catch our breath stolen by the oppressive humidity of summer, we would steel ourselves for the march and move in time – one harmonious, intertwined mass that would only break apart as we would reach our destination.

In fact, many of us, myself include, would do this while keeping our noses buried in a book or newspaper. The morning and evening commute danced along the city streets, through the cacophony of horns as we regarded streets signs as a suggestion.

Yes, this time I noticed I was one of “them.” I was one of those unfortunate few who appeared to be dancing with two left feet. The notes, although familiar, weren’t coming back to me as quickly as they once did. And the reason is because where I live now just doesn’t play the same tune.

Oh, sure, there’s a rhythm to London, Ontario – unfortunately when it comes to the downtown it sounds more like Taps. And where I work it could be the theme to The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. My day job is in an industrial park area, near a residential section, but certainly not conducive to an engaging walk. It’s an area where one doesn’t walk for pleasure – it’s an area where you have to force yourself to walk. But, more often than not, we all pile into our cars, shut out the great outdoors, and drive to whatever destination and errand awaits us.

And that’s one of the biggest thing big-city dwellers miss about big cities. It’s not the events, it’s not the size or diversity – it’s not all that external stuff. What’s most missed by those that leave is something more organic – something internal. It’s not the style, it’s not the flash that you miss, it’s the heartbeat of the city. It’s that factor that you can’t fake, that you can’t just feel in a one-week visit, but rather that slow and steady pulse that’s made up of all those who are a part of it.

I’ve felt it in Montreal, Toronto, New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. These are not cities built upon foundations of steel and glass, but rather they’re nexus points where millions of souls converge to engage in a dynamic dance of life.

For those two days, even though I can’t consider myself a fan of Toronto itself, I have to admit that it was nice to feel the rhythms and remember how I was once able to dance those steps. Perhaps it will happen again, but at the very least I know that when I’m back in a city with a true pulse, I’ll be able to feel it, slowly, reassuringly. And in large cities where people often feel alone despite being surrounded by millions of people, that pulse, that heartbeat is what makes us feel a part of something bigger.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Martin Targets Ontario with Gun Law Proposal

By Jason Menard

In order to keep the title he so dearly covets, Prime Minister Paul Martin is taking his best shot – by making it harder for Canadians to shoot. In doing so, he’s drawn the line in the sand and showing just which Canadians he’s targeting in his bid for re-election.

Essentially, by suggesting that guns should be restricted in Canada, Martin knows that he’s released an opinion that’s not going to fly in Alberta. But, the politically savvy Prime Minister knows that it’s a winning formula for B.C., Quebec, and – most importantly – Ontario.

Toronto is being subjected to daily stories of gun violence, in large part perpetrated by gangs, and the citizens are fed up. And, as Toronto goes, so too does a large part of our Hogtown-centred media. In smaller communities, such as London, any gun violence gets tied directly to the rise of crime in Toronto – and the fear-mongering begins.

As evidenced by the past few elections, Ontarians are looking for a reason to vote Liberal. No matter what the scandal, the citizens of Canada’s most populous province are apparently willing to forgive all transgressions in order to ensure the Liberal influence remains dominant in the House of Commons. Overall, Ontario can be categorized as centre-left, and restricting guns and getting tough on crime will be well received here.

If there’s one issue that Canadians are passionate – and polarized – about, it’s the issue of gun control. While Conservative Leader Stephen Harper tried to exhume the long-cooled body that is the gay marriage debate, Martin decided to take just as strong of a stance against another polarizing issue – but one that’s more appealing to the swing voters which both parties covet.

This election is going to be won down the middle. The idea of rescinding rights on marriage that have already been given remains the domain of the right. By bringing the gay marriage issue up, Harper released the spectre of the “hidden agenda” to rule over this campaign. Those wavering around the centre are generally not the type to be opposed to granting rights to all Canadians.

Gun control is just as polarizing, but without the spectre of treading on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In large part, we Canadians aren’t prone to bringing up the ol’ Right to Bear Arms argument that our friends to the south will trot out. And those that will are so set in their ways that they’ll search for any excuse to keep their beloved firearms.

Whether it’s the farmers demanding the right to bear arms against critters in their fields or sport shooters who use handguns for recreation, there will be those whose opposition to this idea is set in stone. Martin knows this and he’s aware that people that hold this ideal generally are going to vote Tory regardless of his stance. So, instead of appealing to the right, Martin’s wooing the far left by introducing a policy that will appeal greatly to Liberal and NDP supporters alike. And, more importantly, it will appeal to those undecideds wavering between Red and Orange.

But since the opportunity’s at hand, let’s make this a gun law with some teeth. Ban outright all handguns. Create strict penalties for anyone found possessing an illegal firearm in this country. And, most importantly, ensure that anyone caught using a firearm during the committing of a crime is sent to jail for a very, very long time. A firearm offense should result in a minimum 10-year sentence automatically tacked on to any punishment levied for the original crime.

If a criminal thinks they can get two years for robbery, that’s not much of a deterrent. But if they know that sticking up a store with a firearm’s going to add a dime to their ride – then the situation changes.

There can be no opposition to this. Guns kill. It’s their sole purpose. Rifles, while not much better, have their use in hunting, culling, and sport. Handguns don’t. They’re designed to kill. In a civilized society, we don’t need the spectre of handguns hanging over us. It’s time to do the right thing and remove them from society.

The people of Toronto will agree – and that’s exactly what Martin’s counting on. Ontario’s the key battleground. And while Harper’s policies have missed the mark on this vote-rich province, Martin’s anti-gun rhetoric is right on target.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved