In 1976, a fictitious, outraged TV news anchor Howard Beale, at wits end over the lawlessness in the United States and the disregard for human order, launched a diatribe in his broadcast encouraging viewers to swing open their windows and scream: “I am mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”
Incredibly, during an awe-inspiring lighting storm, the viewers were filmed flinging open their windows, screaming Beale’s frustrations.
That bristling scene from the Academy-award-winning movie Network spoke volumes of what Americans were feeling at the time.
So profound were Beale’s words, spoken by actor Peter Finch, in 2000 the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” The U.S. took the message seriously.
Beale’s statement is slowly creeping into the Canadian mindset where citizens are reaching their breaking point, incensed over criminal activity.
It’s a bitter feeling of helplessness; they are losing faith in the justice system; they feel the criminal element is allowed to trample over their rights to protection in a free and democratic society.
Under the Canadian criminal justice system, alleged offenders are presumed innocent until proven otherwise. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms staunchly defends that right. But frustrated, law-abiding Canadians, the victims of crime, are starting to ask: “What about our rights?”
In a powerful observation last week in Red Deer, Alberta’s Minister of Justice Alison Redford put her foot down and advocated “zero tolerance.” She said it’s time community members and the government rethought their approaches in battling crime: a new, aggressive stand is in order.
“We need to be in a mindset for zero tolerance,” Redford said at a town hall meeting at the Westerner Park Chalet, called to discuss safe Red Deer communities and families. “There are those times in history when we say ‘enough is enough’, and we are there now,” she said.
Redford supports passing aggressive legislation, and laws that cry out to be tested in the appeal courts and the Supreme Court of Canada. Protection of society must now take a front-row seat.
Many of our laws are based on an ancient mindset when things were cozy in Canada, when we laid claim as champions of hockey, maple sugar and the Calgary Stampede. But things have changed; crime is rampant. Laws must now reflect the abhorrence voiced by a new-age society dealing with realities that didn’t exist when the Montreal Canadiens were unstoppable.
Fighting crime is about challenging conventional thinking and being prepared to pass legislation that might be challenged by the courts, said Redford.
The minister, a lawyer for 20 years before earning her portfolio, said that just because something can be challenged (in appeal courts) doesn’t mean you don’t do it.
But tread carefully, and don’t start poking fingers at the judges. They can only work with the tools given to them by our current laws. Redford said that in speaking to judges, many agree that the legislation and the laws are not the laws they would like to interpret. It is important, she said, to have public dialogue around (criminal issues) so judges understand the community’s concern.
And don’t blame the police. They are already taxed to their limits. More than ever, communities must take an active role in detecting the criminal element to assist police.
At the Red Deer meeting, Red Deer RCMP Supt. Brian Simpson encouraged members of the community to be ever vigilant, and report activities such as drug houses and other information they feel could be helpful for police to obtain warrants.
Simpson said if people are afraid to get involved, then society is in trouble. It’s up to everyone to take social responsibility and to do their part, he said.
But common sense must also be exercised. Redford said upholding the law is also about knowing how to deal with some offenders, and getting them proper treatment so they don’t become trapped in the vicious cycle of criminal behaviour. There must be backup programs to give offenders a chance to become productive members of the community.
Getting back to Network, Beale described the then current situation in the U.S. as “bull . . . .” Frustrated Canadians, including those in Red Deer, are starting the feel the same.
Rick Zemanek is an Advocate editor.