Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Has Canada become less safe?

I remember when I first moved to Toronto in 1977. I had grown up in the suburbs of New Jersey and had always felt perfectly safe there. Despite the jokes about Jersey being a toxic waste dump or a hotbed of racial strife after the riots in Newark in 1967, I was cloistered in the affluent town of Wyckoff, NJ. Wyckoff had a population of approximately 15,000 people and was located about 20 miles outside of Manhattan.

I loved Manhattan! New York City is one of the most thrilling, culturally stimulating places in the world. However, it was a dangerous place before Rudy Giuliani brought his heavy handed law and order tactics to town. As much as I adored visiting Manhattan -- eating in Chinatown, watching the Ice Capades at Madison Square Garden, spending endless hours in the museum of Natural History or the Metropolitan Museum of Art, hanging out in Greenwich Village and going to concerts at the Fillmore East -- I never wanted to live there. The city was too large, too overwhelming, and too scary for me.

That's when I became enamored with Toronto. I went to grad school there. I'll never forget the first day that I walked down University Avenue with its wide boulevards and beautiful flowers. Toronto was so clean compared to Manhattan! When I would stroll down Bloor Street on my way to class, I would watch someone ahead of me drop something like a soda can or an empty pack of cigarettes. Within seconds, the person behind them would walk over, pick the discarded item up and place it in a trash can. Boy, was I impressed with the Canadians.

At the age of 25, I liked to work hard and I liked to play hard. I was often up until two or three in the morning, and I thought nothing of walking home alone from a bar or a friend's house after hours. I would ride the subway, hop the streetcar or use my own two legs to traverse the wonderful, exciting city of TO. I never felt afraid.

A shoeshine boy by the name of Jacques was killed that year on Yonge Street. His death received an inordinate amount of publicity because the murder of a child was so unusual at that time. You would never catch me riding the subways with such ease now in the middle of the night!

I was watching an old Michael Moore movie a few weeks ago -- can't remember if it was Bowling for Columbine or Roger and Me -- but Moore was talking about how safe Canada is. Apparently, he interviewed a handful of people from Canada who said that they don't even lock their doors at night. Who are these people? Good grief, I just read an article in the Ottawa Citizen the other day that said that an 82-year-old woman was tied up by two young guys while they robbed her house. The men had pretended to be city workers or with the Hydro Company.

Canada isn't that safe anymore. Cities like Ottawa, Toronto or Vancouver don't compare to Chicago, Detroit, or Houston, but the freedom that we had as women to stroll our streets any time of night or day is long gone. Of course, safety issues don't only apply to females. Men may be the greatest perpetrators of crime but they are also the greatest victims.

We used to think of violence as something that might happen to us when we were alone late at night. Stranger crime. Someone we didn't know might harm us. But the fact is that we are much more likely to be injured, killed, molested or betrayed by someone we know.

In D'Amour Road, I have portrayed the fear, frustration, and helplessness of 39-year-old Tara Richards when her best friend Lisa Campana goes missing. Throughout the search for her friend, Tara continually tells herself that bad things don't happen in Ottawa: they happen in Atlanta or Los Angeles -- not here. But that's not so. Canada is not the utopia that Michael Moore would have us believe in his spoof called Canadian Bacon.

Sigrid Macdonald

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