Editorial: Rise to the challenge

  • February 9, 2023

The recent swarm of public stranger assaults or killings in Toronto and other Canadian cities is distressing enough. Arising from it, though, is a reaction from the intelligentsia that portends, unless persuasively curbed, an even more ominous civic outcome.

There is no doubt, as our Associate Editor Michael Swan details on pages four and five of this issue, that the attacks manifest a maddeningly complex matrix linking disparate dysfunctions including poverty, homelessness, mental illness, substance addiction and even suburban anomie. But complexity is no excuse for shoulder-shrugging acceptance of the unconscionable.

The Yiddish proverb “God gave burdens, also shoulders” reminds it is our human duty to rise to challenges. We were not created to slouch toward Gomorrah in feckless attempts at evasion. Alas, voices in the Globe and Mail and elsewhere advise doing exactly that. They argue there’s nowt else we can do but “get used to” urban violence as a condition of 21st century Canadian life.

Curiously, many of these same thinkers insist we can — indeed, must — control the climate, root out “systemic” racism and centrally plan an economy whose perfect equality will overcome even the disequilibrium created by State-mandated inequity. 

Let’s agree we can. Let’s agree we must. Yet if we are confident of achieving such glorious feats, surely active steps are equally plausible for keeping strangers from stabbing innocent transit riders in the head in the middle of the day on Toronto buses. 

Without going full Check Point Charlie guardian class police state, surely we can prevent 89-year-old women having their skulls fatally fractured by being violently pushed to the sidewalk at 11 a.m. in the financial district of Canada’s largest city. No?

Look, our schools proudly proclaim rigorous “safe space” policies for classrooms to eliminate all risk of students encountering discouraging words. Can we not, then, conjure fair guidelines for goon squads of teenaged girls out in the streets at midnight stabbing homeless men to death? We could start by proposing minimalist “you be you” level behavioural expectations, yes?

Sure, the response of more police in the streets, and public thru-ways festooned with added video cameras, is mere programmatic political panic. It betrays the tell-tale policy futility of presuming someone having, say, a psychotic melt down cares they’re on candid camera.

Instead, what if our eggheads and activists, our politicos and media word mongers, spent one whole day repeating the ghosted name of Bernard Goetz? He was the 1984 “subway vigilante” lauded as a public hero for shooting four Black New Yorkers because one said hello to him the wrong way. We learned then, as we must re-learn now, Goetz is what you get when urbanites fear the social contract is shredded. 

Reviving Goetz as a mantra might not get us immediate perfect answers. But it will get us head and shoulders further than the folly that we can, and must, “just get used to” urban stranger violence.  

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