The Honourable Joe Volpe, Publisher
TORONTO - Organizations are like the people who run them. They risk accusations of racism or shallow analysis for the sake of what they think is a “good product”.
In the newspaper business that means “story”. Mainstream English language papers in Toronto just can’t seem to come to grips with the fact some immigrants are actually “mainstream”. They are outside the labels of pigmentation politics, sexual orientation, capitalist/socialist divide and so on. They are difficult “to pin down”, so reporting and commentating relies heavily on the “comfortable stereotyping”, even if offends those who are subject of the stereotyping.
For example, the Star reprinted an article written for the New York Times, by a reporter with an Italian name, purporting to relate an “innovative strategy” by Italian authorities to break the culture of criminality afflicting the country.
For 2013, the last year for which both countries supplied statistics, Italy, population 60 million, reported 504 homicides; Canada, Population 35 million, reported 505 intentional homicides. In 2014, the Italian numbers dropped to 475. Not a single Italian city was violent or “criminal” enough to crack the world’s worst 50.
Unlike Canada, Italy has legislation prohibiting association with criminal organizations. The “criminal leadership”, as it were, is either behind bars or on the run. But clearly there is a vacuum filled by others with less profile. And, of course, there is the perception of a traditional, extended “Family” organizational structure that appears to have favoured those with a willingness to cross the line by providing them a network to nurture their activities. They have become veritable economic empires. Rustic folk with a powerful reach.
This “strength” has now become their “weakness”, if some enterprising Social Workers are to be believed. They are proposing “breaking up” families in order to “break up the Family”. Stellar headline writers are having a field day; the rest of us, not so much.
The theory, and plan, goes something like this: treat the offspring of convicted felons as “chattel” of “ill-begotten” gains, seize them and distribute them as foster children elsewhere in the country. Give them a new lease on life, as it were, and deprive the Family of “recruits”.
If it sounds familiar to Canadians, it is because a similar experiment with Residential Schools is part of our Legacy. Canadian governments, wrestling with the goal of integrating/assimilating the Aboriginal community into twentieth century Canadian society, came up with a policy of taking children away from their parents and placing them in residential schools to learn “the White Man’s way”.
That strategy doesn’t seem to have worked so well. There are doubtless numbers of positive outcomes. It is just difficult for us to discern them among the blizzard of negatives associate with that Legacy: disproportionate rate of poverty, incarceration, recidivism, suicide rate, dependency on alcohol and mind altering drugs…the list goes on.
Monies totalling in the billions of dollars allocated for acculturation and problem solving have done little to mitigate the sense of hurt and victimization. Litigation for redress and reconciliation continues to sap resources. One could go on ad infinitum.
Perhaps those advocates of the “break up the family to break up the Family” strategy – in a serious moment – might suggest reflection upon the Canadian experience in respect of systematic destruction of social bonds simply because they exist. With what are they to be replaced?
Our experience with “youth at risk” strategies does not seem to bear the fruit we hoped. If the current criminality (of internecine gang warfare variety) that is imposing a cloud over the GTA is any indication, surrogate substitutes for responsible parents and “family values”, then those Italian Social Workers may be in for a rude awakening.
None of us condone, much less accept, behaviour that is counter-convention, counter-productive or indeed criminal.
It apparently too much to ask that headline writers of responsible papers to think contextually prior to producing headlines designed to elicit condescending snickers and guffaws.