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Canada: Indian community's gang violence problem

Ajit Jain in Toronto | March 17, 2009 23:05 IST

With gang violence skyrocketing in Vancouver, Surrey and Toronto, the Canadian government is introducing two bills in the House of Commons: The first to amend the Criminal Code to target organised crime; the second is to focus on illicit drugs.

Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan called Metro Vancouver the national capital of gang activity. Through these legislations, he wants to make all gang-related homicides result in first-degree murder charges and he wants mandatory prison terms for some drug crimes. 

There have recently been a dozen gang-related shootings in British Columbia. "Indo-Canadians have not been very much involved in these but during the last few years we have had over 125 [Indo-Canadians] deaths [in or as result of gang violence]," says Ujjal Dosanjh, Liberal Member of Parliament from Vancouver.

"There's consensus developing in the country that you need to be tougher. We will support the legislation. But being tough by itself is not going to help," he says. He should know; he is former attorney general of British Columbia.

"The government needs to provide more municipal police officers, more prosecutors and actually provide resources for those prosecutors to provinces. More importantly, the government needs to invest heavily in crime prevention," he adds.

He also believes the government "should have more after school programs for children. Children come home and they lack care; there's no parent at home because parents are working and so you need after hour programmes, need recreational activities, evening activities at the gym and the community centres."

He says the Conservative government has been inept in handling the spiralling crisis. "In 2006, these sheriffs [Conservative politicians] rode into town slinging rhetoric and pretending to have a silver bullet for every criminal offence. However, on their watch, the main streets of Toronto, Vancouver, Surrey and other cities have turned into war zones," he fumes. "They make Canadians believe that the only solution to this kind of problem is tougher sentences. It is a small part of the solution because it only deals with those who have actually committed the offences. It doesn't prevent people from committing the offences. Our focus has been that this government has had $40 to 60 million allocated to crime prevention but haven't spent more than 50 percent of it in some years."

"My view is, fine, let us give them tougher sentences," he continues, "but let us not deceive them [the public] by saying tougher sentences by itself is going to be sufficient."

Many experts believe tougher sentences could turn even first-time offenders into hardened criminals. Dosanjh says that is why "you need rehabilitation programmes in jails."

"The provinces and the federal governments are in business of jails and they can do that," he continues. "But in terms of the recreational activities for population at large, not in jails but others, you have to have municipal, provincial and federal levels working together. Sadly, the Conservative government has paid absolutely no attention to either that or programs in jails."

How does he explain the involvement of young Indo-Canadians in gangs and drugs?

"We have come of age," he responds. "Our community is like the rest of the Canadian society. Sometimes the family support, social support can be deceiving because they are not providing the kind of guidance and skills that's required."

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