Thursday, February 28, 2008

Judging the Covenant

One of the reasons, dear Vancouver reader, you may not be attending our regular Covenant Zone Thursday night meetings - in the atrium of the central branch of the Vancouver Public Library, 7-9 pm, look for the guys in the blue scarves - is the proximity of our meeting place to a modest hang out for homeless guys, some of whom beg and display their mental illness for all to see. But, for us, it's a constant reminder of how our society has given up much faith in a shared bond that would work against simply allowing Vancouver's public street culture of tolerance and dependency, that only facilitates some people's collapse into the abyss.

Charles wrote about this shocking assault on an elderly man by a homeless person who was the regular beneficiary of the elderly man's charity, last summer.

And now comes the verdict of the judge who seems more intent on telling off the "tolerant" folks of Vancouver for tolerating the intolerable, than on punishing the malefactor:
The violent encounter last August between a homeless panhandler and an elderly parishioner at the entrance to Holy Rosary Cathedral has led a Vancouver Provincial Court judge to question society's willingness to accept homelessness and the chaos it has brought to the city's streets.

Judge William Kitchen's remarks came during the sentencing of Darcy Lance Jones, who has lived in the Vancouver area for almost 20 years subsisting on income assistance, panhandling and petty crime to support a drug habit involving marijuana, crack cocaine and heroin.

Jones -- described by Kitchen as not being a productive member of society ... "in fact he has been pathetically inadequate" -- was given a two-year-less-a-day conditional sentence that amounts to house arrest with strict reporting conditions.

The court was told that on Aug. 1, Jones was waiting outside the cathedral for Peter Collins, who always made a point of speaking to him after mass, and would regularly give him $5.

But on this occasion, as the 81-year-old retired doctor took out his wallet, Jones lunged and grabbed the wallet and threw Collins to the ground.

Jones removed $40, then handed the wallet back to Collins, who was still on the ground.

Kitchen noted the age of the doctor and said he ought to have been injured, but Collins made light of the incident at the time and suffered no apparent injuries.

A video surveillance camera captured the incident and Jones was recognized. Police stopped him on the street the next day and arrested him. He admitted the robbery, was remorseful and told police he couldn't understand why he had done it.

"Nor can others understand," said Kitchen. "Why rob an old man while he is giving you money? And why in the sanctity of the man's church?"
Jones's criminal record did not show an inclination to violence, Kitchen said, and nothing in his past would predict this attack.

"Which raises again the issue of why this robbery occurred. Jones has been part of the street culture in Vancouver. He has been homeless most of the time and relied on public money and handouts to support a continuing drug habit. His idea of being a productive member of society is to frequent the entertainment district at night performing pushups in front of nightclubs, giving directions, and hailing cabs for money," said Kitchen.

"Most people would see this as being a nuisance but those living on the street view it as their role in society," he said.

Kitchen then made a number of withering observations about the state of affairs on Vancouver's streets and society's tacit acceptance of homelessness and all it brings.

"Two generations ago, there were almost no street people in Vancouver. If a person slept or begged on the street, the police would intervene. Public welfare was even more limited than now. Perhaps family and peers took more responsibility for people with problems.

"Somehow society coped without creating the chaos on the streets that we now have," said the judge.

"Today in Vancouver there are perhaps thousands living on the streets and in the parks. They sleep everywhere -- even in the doorways of the courthouse and police station. Public areas are their bathrooms and garbage disposal facilities. They subsist on inadequate income assistance, food lineups and public handouts, and low-level crime.

"Society created this situation. Law-abiding citizens condone it and it has become the expectation of those like Darcy Jones. In fact it is more than an expectation; it is viewed as an entitlement -- the public are expected to respond favourably to silly justifications for demanding money such as 'squeegee' car windshield [washers] or doing pushups on the street.

"It is not surprising that some street people have taken the next step of physically enforcing their right to this support. We have a name for it -- aggressive panhandling," he said.

Regardless, there was no excuse for Jones's crime, which must be forcefully denounced, Kitchen said.

Since his release on bail two weeks after the assault, Jones has been staying at Luke 15 House, a Catholic transition home for addicts and newly released prisoners in Surrey. His lawyer, Susan Daniels, said he should be allowed to continue rehabilitation there.

Jones told Kitchen he planned to stay at the home for the foreseeable future and was planning to become a Catholic at Easter -- decisions supported by staff at Luke 15 House, who spoke up for him on sentencing.

"How ironic that the very church where Jones committed this offence supports him when society will not provide the resources," said Kitchen. "It is a sad fact that there are more resources provided by such charitable organizations as Luke 15 than by our correction services."

Admitting that a conditional sentence -- house arrest -- would be counter-intuitive for many, Kitchen said this case required it. He sentenced Jones to two years less a day to be served at Luke 15 House, to be followed by three years probation.
How do we begin to even think about how to change the massive social problem that has evolved over the years on the streets of Vancouver? Well, there will be no silver bullet to solve this problem. It will take a lot of people saying "no" to the unacceptable and at the same time providing real opportunities that give lost or losing people a way out, opportunities, freedoms, that come with responsibilities. But none of this can happen until people start talking about and assuming the existence of a covenant we all must share to guarantee each other's freedom. That's what we do every Thursday, to the sometimes curious looks of the street people who hang out around us.

Whether you think Darcy Jones got off easy, or if you agree that church is a better place than prison for a man in need of reforming, just be thankful that Jones is seen as one of the bad guys in all this. More sophisticated players of mental illness can now pick up $80, 000 via our scandalous "Human Rights" Commissions, for lying to their new employers and then getting fired because of it. Margaret Wente asks:
Does it really matter if rights tribunals sometimes make dumb decisions? You could argue that's just the price we pay for all the good they do. The trouble is that they're more and more disconnected from common sense. They're taking on cases that would strike most of us as absurd. They're summoning journalists and magazines to defend themselves for exercising basic free speech. They're prosecuting private-sector doctors who choose not to perform elective vaginal surgery on transsexuals. They're about to hear the case against a small-time restaurant and pub owner who told a guy to scram because his marijuana smoke was bothering the customers. The smoker says he was discriminated against because his marijuana is medicinal, and he has the right to smoke it wherever he wants to.

These bodies are fast losing their legitimacy. They have no one to blame but themselves.
Yes, but are they losing legitimacy fast enough for our governments to actually get off their duffs and do something about them? Or will we all just accept the corrosion of common sense, like we accept the pervasive mental illness on the streets of Vancouver? Will our politicians be willing to stand up to all the ritualistic flack that in doing something about the rogue "human rights" tribunals, or about the mentally ill patrons of the professional social work povertarians, they would be attacking "human rights"? Or will we be forced to endure more and more costly and socially and economically corrosive rulings form the victim religionist at our tribunals? For our governments to act, the people need to lead. There needs to be a lot of phoning, faxing, letter writing to our politicians to tell them that there are rogue bureaucrats acting as Star Chambers with a destructive zeal for victimary thinking, and that it is ruining our national covenant and hence eroding freedom for everyone. If you want to share in working up this angle, making new ways of thinking both compelling and popular, that's one thing the talking shop that is Covenant Zone is for, here in cyberspace or at the library Thursday nights. Or wherever and with whomever you are.

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Dag said...

It's here in Vancouver that I came up with the term "povertarian." Yes, another beat me to it, as I found out by searching. He is from India, and he referred to Gandhiesque posing as poor and celebrating poverty of others as a philosphical vision of the Moral. India. I came to the same conclusion with the same term in Vancouver. Canada. Go figure.

I have figured. I've been writing about this for years now. I wrote about "Velvet Fascism," and now Johan Goldberg has out a wonderful book, "Liberal Fascism." There's something in the air, folks, and it's democracy. Breathe it in deep and you'll want to meet us at the library.

nancy (aka money coach) said...

don't you really wonder about the phrase "drug habit"? sort of like, I have a habit of coffee first thing in the morning, or Susan has a habit of reading the paper on the weekend, and other people have a habit of, well, trashing their bodies, ruining their lives, losing their teeth, putting themselves at the mercy of hells angels etc. for their casual little 'drug habit'. What a weird phrase, eh? drug habit.

truepeers said...

well we are creatures of habit

we can't live a simply spontaneous and creative existence.

Dag said...

"Drug habit." Stephen Pinker springs to mind when I encounter that kind of language, he using the phrase "euphemism treadmill." We seem to be in the habit of covering up our experienced life with code words and fluff to conceal the obvious from ourselves as if it really weren't there. An example comes to mind this morning in looking at downtown eastside enquirer's coverage of "social housing." even bin Laden and co. living in a cave is social. All housing is social if people live like human beings rather than as hermits. "Social housing" is just another example of lying.

Thus begins another day. With, of course, my coffee habit.