Inner City Diary
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No guilt about kicking out the bad guys...
December 1, 2002
I used to feel guilty about it. Not anymore!

I make no secret of my joy at the closing of a drug den or the busting of a brothel. When a bad one closes, you can hear the applause from local churches and community groups.

This week I was invited to comment on a provincial law called the “Safer Communities Act.”

The Federal government already goes after crooks with criminal law. But it takes a long time to do an investigation and get enough evidence to take to court. Even then, once the judges and lawyers finish dismantling the work of police, the community is often more frustrated than before. Criminal law is not enough.

The Province now uses civil law to assess the disruption and danger caused by the crooks in a particular location. Dealers, hookers, sniffers and other crooks attract high traffic from dangerous and disrespectful people. There’s usually lots of noise, intimidation, and other uncivil displays of disrespect for the community.

Under the “Safer Communities Act”, provincial investigators check out our complaints. They collect videotape evidence, listen to residents, and watch the crooks. After watching for awhile, our complaint becomes their complaint. They talk to landlords and, if necessary, the courts. They can encourage evictions or even board buildings and shut them down.

I’m not shy about criticizing stupid or ineffective laws. But this is a great law. Community people helped draft it. It has created new ways for city cops, provincial investigators and health inspectors to work together. It’s bringing new hope to the community and additional courage to law-abiding residents.

But there will always be critics. And some of their comments are starting to tick me off!

One woman self-righteously commented, “Won’t they just move to another house?”

I snapped, “So what does that mean? Are we supposed to just shut up and sit with the problem? If you don’t mind, maybe they can live with you for awhile!”

Picture this: A woman routinely abused by her spouse sits in front of some do-gooder. She’s beaten and terrified. The do-gooder suggests, “Why don’t you just learn to live with it? After all, if we kick him out of the house, he’ll just move elsewhere and do the same thing again.”

Nobody should dare peddle such stupidity to a victim of abuse. But people in our neighbourhood are routinely counseled by suburban do-gooders to learn to try and coexist with crooks. “You can’t wipe out the problem. They’ll just move somewhere else.”

So? I hope the next community evicts them too. And the next one, and the next one after that.

I don’t hate these people. Actually I love them and admire their toughness. But I can’t tolerate the risks associated with their criminal behavior around other kids, adults and businesses I love as well.

I figure it’s good if they get kicked out of enough houses, and get forced to move much more frequently.

Eventually I hope they get tired of being hassled everywhere and decide to change their way of living. Alternately, I hope they get careless in course of their many moves and get busted.

Here’s the choices – either get tired and change, or get careless and busted.

Another critic commented, “Why don’t you focus on helping them rather than kicking them out?”

We do, but why does it have to be one or the other? When an abuser won’t stop and accept help, the abuser must move on. We need help, not guilt trips!

In our community we don’t have many options. When our lives are disrupted, homes devalued, kids exposed by drug dens and brothels, who do we call?

It’s not likely we can call Chief Swan or the Social Planning Council to take action. They do some good work, but I can’t recall them ever picketing pimps, prostitutes and drug dealers. They’re more likely busy preparing their next diatribe against law enforcement or government budgets.

All the jaw-jacking in the world about “prevention” doesn’t help when what you need is some immediate “intervention.”

We’re not a vindictive bunch. Many of us in the neighbourhood are advocating for prevention and better options for prostitutes, dealers, johns, and other troublemakers.

But for now, the next drug house or brothel that sets up in our area will be quickly reported to City police and inspectors. We’ll also be calling the Provincial investigators for the “Safer Communities Act.”

We’ll keep working to try to change crooks to citizens. But if they won’t change we’ll do everything possible to kick them out of our neighbourhood.

And don’t even try to make us feel guilty about that.

Copyright 2002
Rev. Harry Lehotsky
Rev. Harry Lehotsky is Director of New Life Ministries, a community ministry in the inner-city of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
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lehotsky@escape.ca