Oct. 21, 2022

Social justice cannot function without criminal justice

It isn’t working, society is crumbling, and we’re letting it happen. Some of us are actually enabling it.

Crime in our communities is rampant, due to a drug pandemic coupled with mental illness,  fueled by each other. Our elected officials are not doing anything meaningful to tackle the problem by instituting only one selective element of the Four Pillars approach which was developed about two decades ago to address the problem. Harm reduction by itself will not help, in fact, it may exacerbate the problem. It’s more for show than for a solution.

The concept of handing out “safer” drugs and making them more available, even at government cost, does not make sense in any way, shape or form. The argument that it prevents deaths among drug users is a false argument. They may be alive but they are still drug-using addicts.

Former Vancouver Mayor and later Senator Larry Campbell, if I recall correctly, was the standard bearer in the four pillars concept that called for prevention, treatment, and enforcement, all before harm reduction. No element can stand on its own, they are all dependent on each other.

Prevention and treatment are the anchors, but they cannot stand without enforcement which at some level must include enforced treatment. Somehow those pillars have been shunted to the sidelines in favor of flashier harm reduction.

Lamenting stigmatization emphasizes the victimhood mantra. Stigmatization won’t turn anyone toward drug use or away from it. When they reach that point they are way beyond caring about labels. It’s another buzzword used by government to misdirect attention from real solutions.

The reluctance to enforce has resulted in a total focus on social justice while overlooking criminal justice. That paints the over all picture of homelessness, crime and mental health as a society of victims. We have to separate the two – treat real victims as victims and more importantly, treat the criminals as criminals. Clamp down on drug dealers rather than go into competition or supplement them. 

Another thing that is not being addressed is the growing number of people who are brain injured because of overdosing and nearly dying too often. As well there are those who have non-drug-induced brain injuries and end up on the streets. They are being created every day because they are not in detox/treatment. Those folks are often permanently impaired.

As it is now, various levels of government put all their focus on harm reduction rather than employing the framework right in front of them. To quote one of my favorite U.S. senators, “It doesn’t matter what you say, what matters is what you do, all the rest is cottage cheese.” 

Making that shift will not be easy as it involves more elements than meet the eye. Social agencies, including housing, have to take a new look at their direction. Treatment facilities we used to have must be reinstituted. Law enforcement has to be refocused on enforcement rather than social work, and the legal/court system has to shut the revolving door that discharges criminals before they can get comfortable in their cell.

Nobody pretends it’s easy because government would have to do a complete turn around and reallocate finances away from popular vote getting to actual solutions. All the climate solutions in the world won’t mean anything if there’s nobody left alive in a the imaginary pristine paradise on earth.

Who knows, a solution to this massive problem could be a voter getter in itself. Who’s going to try it?

ADDENDUM – After this columnn was published, Premier designate David Eby promised action.

“The commitment I’m making today … you will see action from our government, but what you will see is action that actually addresses the issue that causes so much chaos. … The issues of mental health, addiction and homelessness and the need to intervene and break the cycle.”

COMMENT merv.unger@shaw.ca