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Are we ‘getting it’?

So this morning I lamented openly about the seeming inability of my fellow Canadians to notice the extremism and hypocritical, bullying nature of our current government. I may have oversold the argument a bit – it may not be that people don’t notice; it may simply be that they don’t care. Whatever the reason for the lack of national outcry over a series of should-be-scandals that are much larger than the one that played a role in unseating the previous government, we do not seem particularly concerned with the incompetence and malice that characterizes much (but certainly not all) of the current regime.

There is another potential explanation: the data may just take time to hit home. I will confess that I probably pay more attention to politics than the ‘average’ person. I find the discussion of competing alternative explanations for the same issue fascinating, and I find the foibles of humanity displayed proudly in the halls of power to be endlessly diverting. I also care passionately about the direction of my country (and the world in general), so I am always hungry for new information about the political system. There are, believe it or not, people who are even more passionate and motivated than I am, and it is to them I go when I need the cracks in my understanding filled in a bit.

So I suppose it is likely that what I might see as apathy or purposeful indifference may simply be an entirely-understandable ‘lag time’ between when I get fired up, and when the rest of the country comes around:

Canadians are finally getting the message that crime rates are falling. New poll results show the public is abandoning a stubborn belief that crime is on the rise, bringing public opinion into alignment with a 20-year trend of declining crime rates. The long-standing disconnect between public fears and reality has confounded criminologists and fuelled federal get-tough policies.

However, the Environics Focus Canada poll – obtained by The Globe and Mail and scheduled for release Thursday – shakes conventional wisdom even more by finding growing support for the use of crime prevention rather than punishment. “This doesn’t mean that people want to lay off criminals,” said Keith Neuman, executive director of the Environics Institute. “But what people would like to see is more crime prevention. They feel that this is the right thing to do.”

Anyone who’s been reading this blog longer than a couple weeks knows pretty well what my feelings are on the approaching federal crime bill. It’s an approach to criminal justice that completely flies in the face of the facts. This isn’t a liberal/conservative issue either – even conservatives agree that the “tough on crime” approach simply does not work. However, there is something in the popular mentality that always thinks that crime is getting worse (it’s not), and that our streets are more dangerous (they aren’t), or that this current batch of youngsters is worse than those that came before (that’s not true either). It is encouraging to see that maybe, just maybe, we are coming around to the facts in time to realize what a shit sandwich the crime bill is.

We might be getting smarter in other places too:

“Just because she isn’t saying no doesn’t mean she is saying yes,” the poster says. “Sex without consent = sexual assault. Don’t Be That Guy.” The poster is one of three that went up at bars and around the city last summer as part of a campaign to chip away at the increasing rate of sexual assaults in recent years in Vancouver. Six months later, Deputy Chief Doug LePard says the Don’t Be That Guy campaign has contributed to a turnaround in statistics on sexual offences in Vancouver. The rate dropped in 2011 by about 10 per cent, the first time in several years it had gone down.


So I know what you’re probably thinking: “One ad campaign isn’t going to result in such a dramatic decrease”, and you’re probably right. However, the campaign is indicative of a change in the way people are thinking about (and talking about) sexual assault. I remember when I started undergrad, and we got ‘the bar talk’ about how women need to guard their drinks and never leave them unattended and only accept them from strangers if they watched the dude at the bar pour them. I’m not knocking this advice, protecting yourself is important – a woman on one of the neighbouring floors was drugged (luckily she wasn’t assaulted, but I know that it happened to other people that year). However, what advice did the men on our floor receive? Nothing. Nothing about how to distinguish between someone capable of consent and someone too drunk for it not to be date rape. Nothing about how to talk other male friends out of drunken assault. Nada. Zilch. I went to a pretty progressive school, too.

At the time I didn’t think anything of it. After all, I certainly wasn’t going to date rape anyone – dust my hands off, not my problem. It would take several years and a lot of listening/thinking for me to realize what a missed opportunity it was. Vancouver’s police department (who I have a hard time hating when they do stuff like this) is recognizing that the conversation can change from “women, safeguard your virtue” to “men, you have responsibilities too”. The extent to which this specific campaign is responsible for the huge reduction in assaults, or what role the accompanying change in officer training played, is an interesting practical question, but it is not the most remarkable part of this story. The remarkable part is that we may actually be seeing big, positive changes in the way we think about our culture and our world, whether it be social policy or something like assault.

So it’s not all doom and gloom here at the Manifesto. Sometimes we get a couple of rays poking through the clouds that let us know we just might be doing something right.

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