I make one offhand remark about a card game and all hell breaks loose. 19 comments and counting about celebrity poker… the topic wasn’t exactly the thrust of this here blog.

Oh, yeah, the Rammoli thing… that was a joke. There’s no Celebrity Rummoli in Canada. Sorry to disappoint.

Ok enough of this business, let’s get back to work.

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Violence and Canadian Universities

Each year Maclean’s magazine publishes its rankings of Canadian universities. Their criteria for measuring excellence is largely based on test scores and funding capacities. Maclean’s never measures an academic institution’s record on safety and security. Issues of campus violence never enter into the equation. My question is, shouldn’t they? Isn’t the quality of life on campus equally important as the quality of education?

Listen to the following story and see if it sets off any alarms. In 1986, a female student is tortured, raped, sodomized and murdered in her dormitory room by a fellow student. The killer is a known substance abuser and gained access to the dormitory by proceeding, unopposed, through three propped-open doors. In the aftermath, school officials engage in a campaign of “callousness, cover-ups and stonewalling”. The institution calls the murder an “aberration” and, in an attempt to protect it’s image, produces a self-serving report concluding no negligence on the part of the school, and that all safety policies were complete. This, despite the school’s prior knowledge of violent crimes on campus and 181 formal complaints about propped-open doors.

Sound familiar? Indeed it does, up to this point; but then the story diverges. The victim is Jeanne Clery, an American student, and her parents, Connie and Howard Clery, sued Lehigh University in Pennsylvania for unilaterally absolving itself of blame in the young girl’s death. Less than two years later, Lehigh settled the suit – and they went one step further; they agreed to make material changes to security operations on campus. Rather than letting the situation fester, Lehigh became proponents for change. Lehigh now posts the campuses full crime statistics on their web site. Their campus security consists of sworn police officers. There is even access to a sex offender database online to see if any faculty or staff have been guilty of sex crimes in the past. Lehigh went from being goats to becoming leaders in student safety and security. Not that they had any choice in the matter. Much of this change was forced on them through acts of legislation, spearheaded by the Clerys.

In 1990, the United States Congress passed the Jeanne Clery Act, the first in several pieces of Federal legislation designed to protect student interests in security and safety. The Jeanne Clery Act – also known as the Campus Security Act – requires all American universities to disclose annual information about campus crime and security policies; including three years worth of crime statistics, sexual assault policies, and the law enforcement authority of campus police. The information must be disclosed to both the students and the public. Violators can be fined up to $25,000. Subsequent Acts included the Buckley Amendment, making campus police records non confidential; A Campus Sexual Assault Victims’ Bill of Rights, forcing schools to have policies in place to address sexual assaults; The Foley Amendment, which forces schools to disclose information about any student found guilty of a crime of violence or sexual offence; An Amendment to the original Clery Act forcing schools to disclose off-campus, but campus related acts of aggression; and the Campus Sex Crimes Prevention Act, forcing schools to disclose information about employees who are registered sex offenders.

Statistics show that these measures are important and necessary. In 1987, the year after Jeanne Cleary was murdered there were 31 murders, 1,500 armed robberies, and 13,000 physical assaults reported on American college campuses nationwide. These are incidents reported even before legislation required these statistics to be disclosed. Recently, the U.S. House of representatives reported that thirty-eight percent of American college women questioned had either been raped or were victims of felony sexual assaults.

In Canada there is no Federal legislation to protect the rights of campus women. Canadian universities are not required to disclose campus crime statistics. Without statistics there is no criteria for evaluating one school’s safety record versus another. Without federal requirements, Canadian Universities are free to make up there own statistics. In the year 2000, the University of Toronto – with a bulging population of 69,000 students and staff – voluntarily recorded three robberies on all of its campuses. With no one watching them, how many crimes would you expect U of T to report?

It is an exercise in frustration trying to find uniform and measurable statistics on campus crimes at Canadian universities. When asked, several women’s rights organizations in Canada seemed perplexed that the question was even being asked. Why was this a priority? Some, like Educational Wife Assault in Toronto were surprised that there were no such data available. Others, like White Ribbon, felt confident that the Toronto Rape Crisis Center would have the information. They didn’t. And still others implied that they had the information, but wouldn’t release it for “political” reasons. In a request to the Vancouver Rape Relief & Women’s Shelter, the Shelter accidentally forwarded an email to me that was intended for a supervisor. It referred to me as “that guy whose sister went missing”, and read, “Let me know if you want me to respond to this man – I can send a response asking why he is particularly interested before we decide whether you should reply directly.” It’s been close to a year. I”m still waiting for their response.

Just as there is no Federal legislation – no Canadian campus security act – there are no uniform measures requiring Canadian Universities to establish like policies for security and safety specific to campus related issues. Universities are generally advised to follow the guidelines of the Federal or Provincial Charter of Rights – but these rules are too broad and don’t address specific issues relevant to student concerns.

Federal direction is desperately needed. A 1995 Ontario Women’s Directorate study showed that four out of five female undergraduates said they had been victims of violence in a dating relationship. In the same study on the subject of date rape, sixty percent of Canadian college-aged males indicated they would commit sexual assault if they knew they could get away with it.

Not that everything is rosy in the US. Many American universities fudge the numbers, or blatantly fail to accurately report campus crimes. In 1996, the Chancellor of the University of North Carolina in Lumberton bragged to the press that there had been no crime on his campus for three years. The director of Lumberton’s Rape Crisis Center soon set the record straight; there had been at least three rapes on campus – they had been reported to campus police and administrators, but mysteriously were dropped from UNC Lumberton’s annual statistics. In 1994 UNC Chapel Hill student, Wendell Williamson, went on a shooting rampage in downtown Chapel Hill, killing two people, one of them a UNC undergraduate. Many stray bullets crossed the street onto the UNC campus, but the shooting was dropped from statistics and no homicides were reported that year.

The enforcement wing of the American Campus Security Act, the U.S. Department of Education (DOE), has also come under fire for failing to impose fines on schools that violate the Act. Under the intense scrutiny of several American watchdog groups, enforcement has been beefed up. In February 2003, two residence supervisors at Morehead State University in Kentucky were criminally charged for failing to report a gang rape in the campus dormitory. On March 5th, 2003 Security On Campus, Inc. called on the DOE to impose a $2.3 million fine on Salem International University for failure to report 84 serious campus crimes between 1997 and 1999. Currently there are legal actions pending for campus violations against 13 American Universities including Clemson, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of California system.

Canadian universities have cited problems with the American Campus Crime Act as justification for not having similar requirements in Canada. “Crime statistics are very easy to toss around – but they don’t put into context the criminal behaviour.” Says Rosemary Gartner of the University of Toronto. Really. Three murders and six forcible rapes at the University of Arizona in 2002 – that is the only context I need to know that my children will not be attending college in that state. Similarly, Louise Fish, president of the Ontario Association of College and University Security Administrators has stated that, “Universities are very autonomous. Any legislation like that erodes that autonomy”, as if autonomy was the benchmark for academic excellence. But, should universities be left to their own devices to make up their own rules? There is a stewardship implicit in the relationship between parent and student, and scholastic institution. In order to gain the public’s trust, institutions should at the least be expected to follow a set of guidelines and measures that can assure us that they are capable of performing their fiduciary obligations.

If Canada had a campus crime act, Champlain College in Lennoxville, Quebec would have been forced to disclose the two severe assaults that happened on campus in 2001. Because there are no such requirements, only lawyers and administrators were aware of these two incidents; one of which involved a female student who was allegedly hit on the back of the head by an assailant with a shovel while two teachers sat passively sipping coffee in a nearby office.

Some Canadian schools do better than others. The University of Toronto, the University of Calgary and the University of British Columbia manage to post some crime stats on their websites. Similar to Lehigh, UBC has an RCMP detachment on their main campus.

In the spring of 1979, when my sister’s body turned up within a mile of the Compton residence in the Quebec Eastern Townships, School administrators defended themselves claiming there was no history of violence in the area to prepare themselves for such an event. The facts clearly demonstrate that this wasn’t true; there had been a pattern of violence for years. What would administrators say today? To be sure, most students – for that matter, most Canadians – are unaware of the 2001 murder of Julie Boisvenu in Sherbrooke, or the disappearance of Julie Bureau from nearby Coaticook in 2000. Students rarely read local newspapers such as the Sherbrooke Record or La Tribune. They are unaware of the 56-year-old repeat offender arrested 40 miles away in Granby for sexually assaulting a victim at gunpoint. They probably have little knowledge of the man from nearby Magog who was arrested for sexually assaulting his daughter who was dying of cancer, or of the 50-year-old man apprehended nextdoor in Sherbrooke for sexually molesting an eight-year-old victim, or of the teacher from Thetford Mines arrested for fondling fourteen-year-old students. With so much violence again on the radar screen, what are school officials doing to prepare students for a tragedy comparable to the events of 1978?

The latest statistics on campus crime show that violent crime is on the rise in universities across America. Between 1999 and 2000 the number of murders on campus nearly doubled from 11 to 20 reported incidents. Experts believe the increases have less to do with worsening crime, and may be attributed to better reporting and tougher enforcement on campuses. Without a system in place, there is no way of knowing whether a similar trend may be taking place in Canada. Most likely the Canadian trend is similar. Crime statistics in Canada tend to mirror those in the States, though with allowances being taken for economies of scale.

Recently, I voiced some of these concerns to a victims advocate in Ottawa. There response was, how do you know there’s campus violence problem in Canada? Well, if no one’s monitoring the situation, how do you know there isn’t? Can we afford not to know? I would find it relieving if someone would tell me which Universities are the safest in Canada, and which need improvement. Perhaps for their 2004 Fall report Maclean’s might want to start reviewing some university safety audits and report back on who’s making the grade with campus security at Canadian universities.

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But I Digress…

An article in today’s Montreal Gazette suggests pathological gamblers are prone to suicide. If they’re talking about poker, the only thing more despairing than playing the game is being forced to watch others play it. Ever been invited to a party only to find it’s really a poker circle and you’re the only one that doesn’t play? How much does that suck. You’re forced to sit in the corner and pretend like you’re caught up in the enthusiasm.

Which brings me to the latest television trend – Celebrity Poker. Whose idea was this? What could be duller than watching guys play poker? Watching guys play poker ON TV! And what’s worse, they’re “celebrities”. Do I really want to watch the cast of The West Wing locked in a grueling hand of Texas Hold’um?

THE SUSPENSE IS KILLING ME.

For laughs, I’ll tell you what to do. When the final showdown airs on January 13th, make like you’re Stella to Richard Schiff’s Stanley (the big gorilla). Go to the kitchen and make the fellas a plate of sandwiches. Set the plate down in front of the television for the boys to enjoy. They’ll ignore you and act like you’re not in the room (’cause you’re not; you’re in your livingroom and they’re ON TELEVISION). Sit in the corner and sulk.

See, it’s just like the crappiest party you’ve ever attended!

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Year End Crime Review

Ever had one of those nights where you can’t sleep ’cause you’re up all night wondering what the top crime stories of 2003 might be?

Last night was one of those. “What would they be?”, I pondered, “Jacko? Those pesky snipers? Little Lacy Peterson?”

No. These were too obvious. To get the real story I needed to go to the experts. Court TV. Yes. Theirs is a braintrust of integrity and critical information. They would have the stories that truly shaped our social consciousness, forget my populist offerings.

If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to check the Court TV web page… I’ll be back in a second. You can come along if you like…

(pause)

I’m back.

Say, Court TV picked the same stories I picked! (Ok I forgot about Kobe) I guess I’m smarter than I thought I was. And did you see that feature on Saddam Hussein? Court TV’s got the “playbook” on other toppled dictators! I feel like an armchair quarterback, International Relations is just like Monday Night Football!

I checked other websites like FOX, MSNBC and CNN – they’ve listed the same stories as their top crime newsmakers of 2003. I guess these must be the stories that are important.

I just wonder why no one mentioned the murder of April Renee Greer? You remember April Renee Greer ( her story appeared somewhere, didn’t it?). Like Lacy Peterson, April was chopped-up and disposed of (in a trashcan) by her partner. Like Scott Peterson, Greer’s boyfriend allegedly didn’t want the baby April had been carrying for 8 1/2 months, so he killed it too. Unlike Peterson, Greer’s death never garnered much attention. (credit ABC news’ Bryan Robinson for attempting to draw some attention to this case.)

I suppose slinging hash at the local Golden Corral (Greer was a waitress in Greensboro, NC) isn’t as telegenic as owning a tony crab shack in San Luis Obispo.

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Quebec Cops Get Failing Grade

In last Saturday’s Gazette, Montreal executive committee member responsible for public safety, Peter Yeomans states “it just doesn’t make any sense” that Montreal cops would get a failing grade for crime-solving.

Say what?

Each Christmas in Montreal brings about three events that go down like clockwork: boxing day shoppers run rabid in the streets, the Habs lose their Saturday night hockey game – usually on home ice, and Stats Can releases their annual crime statistics. The exuberance of the first two events usually obscures the significance of the third – but not this year. Fact is, no one should be surprised by Montreal’s ranking (31st out of 43 Canadian cities), or that Quebec and British Columbia have the worst records for solving crimes. Criminology researcher Paul Brodeur insults our intelligence by explaining that the ranking is skewed by burglary stats. If Montreal’s data includes burglaries, don’t you think the other 43 cities include the same handicap? Hello?

Further, Yeomans says a 70% clearance rate on homicides is “excellent”.

That close to a third of homicides go unsolved? I wouldn’t even call that acceptable. What the stats won’t tell you is that for the past twenty years Quebec has had an unsolved homicide rate 10% greater than that of the rest of Canada, according to statistics from the Ministere du Securite Publique. Further a 70% clearance rate puts Montreal only in a slightly better position than the clearance rate on homicides in the United States for 2002, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports. I’m sorry, but wasn’t one of the advantages of living in Canada supposed to be that it was safer (read: better) than living in the States?

Before Yeomans begins bragging about the “excellent reputation” of the Montreal and Quebec police forces, maybe officers need to spend a little more time doing the nuts and bolts work that earn such respect.

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Ain’t It Weird

One of the best year in review columns is Kristian Gravenor’s annual stupid-crimes-in-Quebec roundup. Gravenor writes for the Montreal Mirror (kind of a Village Voice for the Southern Quebec region). Over the past five years his Weird Crime column has attained a sort of cult status. Strangely, this is the one time during the year that Gravenor writes about crime – normally he is an art critic. This year’s offering is hysterical and not to be missed. I especially liked the comment about the Drummondville Symphony Orchestra.

Here are some links to previous entries:

Weird Crime 2002

Weird Crime 2001

Weird Crime 2000

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2003 – Canadian Crime In Review

Get over it: Canada’s as violent as the U.S.

Ok, so I admit I have a bias for Quebec crime, but just to show I can be fair and balanced, I will leave off any mention of arsonist-cum-murderer Angelo Colalillo, M.D. impersonator-cum-murderer Richard Bouillon, knife enthusiast Guy Croteau (say, doesn’t Croteau mean “cut” in French? Ironic, eh? ), object of police fabricated evidenceHugo Bernier, or good-old-fashioned serial killer William Fyfe. Oh and contrary to Court TV, the trial of the new millennium has nothing to do with a kiddie diddler named Michael: it’s all about a little Angel named Mom.

So here are my top ten stories from 2003 demonstrating the violence and corruption of the great white north:

1. Newfoundland’s Ouchie

A former chief justice of the Supreme Court is asked to investigate why so many wrongful-murder convictions have occurred in Newfoundland. Asked to probe the cases of Gregory Parsons, Ronald Dalton and Randy Druken, former chief justice Antonio Lamer stated there may be a “systematic failure of the system or, maybe it was just three individual boo-boos.”

2. Deep Throat Probes the Prairie

Saskatoon hit the big time when the Washington Post reported the plight of Darrell Night, a 37-year-old member of the Cree Nation who was driven to the outskirts of town and left for dead in the freezing cold by two members of the Saskatoon police force. “Get the fuck out of here, you fucking Indian”; that’s how officers left Night, who managed to survive the three mile walk back to the city. The force is now under investigation since several frozen aboriginal bodies have turned up in the area where police left Night.

3. Human Remains Discovered in Dartmouth Quarry

In August, RCMP confirmed that human remains were found in a rock quarry outside Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. Investigators were at a loss to say who the remains belonged to; was it a 15-year-old boy missing since 1995? A former Hells Angels member missing since 1999? My guess is it’s one of the countless young women that have gone missing from the Halifax area – in the past 15 years many turned up in wooded areas, while others have disappeared without a trace.

4. Vince Bevan? Is anybody home?

It is a tragedy that graduate student Ardeth Wood went missing from downtown Ottawa in the summer of 2003 only to turn up dead along a riverside biking path. But the real story here is how Ottawa chief of police, Vince Bevan still can’t solve this crime. You remember Bevan – he’s the one who let Karla Homolka plea bargain her way out of a life sentence. How someone can blow the Paul Bernardo case then get PROMOTED to chief of police is beyond me. 

The scuttlebutt around the Nation’s Capital is that police were aware of a serial rapist operating along the biking paths of the Ottawa river long before Ardeth Wood disappeared. Now the case is stone cold and Bevan isn’t talking.

5. Toronto The Very Bad

10-year-old Holly Jones disappears from her downtown neighborhood. Later pieces of her body are found floating in luggage along the shores of Lake Ontario. Police arrest 35-year-old Michael Briere, a software developer who lives near Holly’s home. These things aren’t supposed to happen in Toronto.

6. Cecilia Zhang – “Parents may breathe a little easier”

So said police in the wake of the abduction of the nine-year-old child, confident that Zhang was part of a ransom plot and not abducted by a sexual predator. Shaken by the murder of Holly Jones, authorities didn’t want Toronto to break into total panic. It’s been over two months now and police still can’t find Cecilia.

7. Ridgway vs Pickton – Can We Get A Recount?

On December 18th, Green River serial killer Gary Ridgway is sentenced to life in prison after confessing to the murders of 48 women over the past two decades. The murders set a record for serial killings in America, but Ridgway may have a rival – up the road in British Columbia, pig farmer Robert Pickton is charged with seven additional murders, bringing his total charges to 22. Pickton is reputed to be Canada’s worst serial killer, possibly responsible for the murders of over 60 prostitutes from downtown Vancouver.

8. Edmonton’s Missing Women

Not to be outdone by their neighbors in Vancouver, Edmonton has its own missing women. A task force from the Western province has been handed 123 cases to investigate in relation to the unsolved murders of 20 area prostitutes. 

9. Etiquette 101:
If you throw a party, don’t forget to invite the guests!

In November, Justice Canada hosts a victims of crime conference. Dubbed, Lessons Learned from Victims of Crime the event was unique on two accounts:

1. It was the first of its kind in Canada.

2. The DOG neglected to invite victims.

Left to explain the gaff of the Ministry, then Deputy Justice Minister Richard Mosley was given a deus ex machina when outgoing Prime Minister, Jean Chretien swiftly promoted him to the Supreme Court. Talk about your exit strategies. Let’s hope future conferences will be more inclusive.

10. Nutcase Watch

December 31, 2003 – Only 553 days left until Karla Homolka is released from prison.

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