Advocate for programs that work

Posted on: November 23rd, 2016 By: Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council

Turn the Page Book Club with Diane SchoemperlenInevitably, the Turn the Page book club discussions turned to the support provided to people in prison while they serve their sentences and the programs and support available during parole or upon release. Many people in attendance admitted to not knowing the reality facing people on the ‘inside’.

The past 5-7 years have seen a cut in federal funding to several prison support programs (inside and outside prisons) that have shown to be effective in reducing recidivism, building skills for reintegration and providing support to some of the most stigmatized prisoners, people who have sexually offended.

You might be interested in supporting these programs with a donation to keep them going. Or, as someone suggested at the book club event, you might want to write a letter to your Member of Parliament advocating for increased funding to support these valuable programs.

  • Lifeline provides support and transitional housing to men who have served a life sentence as they prepare for reintegration into our communities. Funding for this program was cut in 2012/2013. Some Lifeline programs are still offered through various St. Leonard Society organizations.
  • Circles of Support and Accountability is a Canadian-made restorative justice program for men and women who have committed serious sexual offences. CoSA allows the community to play a direct role in the restoration, reintegration, and risk management of people who are often seen with only fear and anger. COSA experienced the same severe federal funding cuts as Lifeline in 2014 and has spent a great deal of time figuring out how to support a nation-wide program of COSA chapters. They have even some sample letters already prepared which you could use to advocate for reinstated funding for COSA.
  • Prison farms have been a part of 6 federal prison institutions since the establishment of correctional facilities in Canada. They were defunded and closed by the federal government between 2009 – 2013. Prison farms provided beneficial employability and training opportunities, time management and responsibility skills, animal therapy, productive labour and physical exercise, access to nature, individual and team building work, and training in farm management and operation. There are many advocating for the return of prison farms as a prosocial training opportunity for inmates. Project Soil published an excellent case study of the prison farms at Frontenac and Pittsburgh Institutions, both Correctional Services of Canada facilities in Ontario.
  • Here is a 59 minute film about prison farms in Canada – Til the Cows Come Home.

If you’re super keen, someone suggested having a letter writing party – invite your friends, invite your neighbours!

There are certainly more prisoner support programs that are proven to work, but these three were discussion specifically at the event.

Also check out the call to action for humanizing people in prison and reducing stigma for families and loved ones and opportunities to be involved in systems and societal changes.

Between life and death: Responding to drug overdoses in Canada

Posted on: July 14th, 2014 By: Smart on Crime

This article appeared in the July 14, 2014 edition of the Waterloo Region Record. 

What if you could save a life? Just one life. Would you? For almost all of us the answer to these questions is an enthusiastic yes. Without question, regardless of anything, a life, just one life, is worth saving.

But what if saving that person’s life tested your political standpoints around drug use? Would that life still be worth saving? Across this country people are dying from legal and illegal drug use. Reliable statistics on drug overdoses across Canada are difficult to find, but research by the Ontario coroner shows that on average there is an overdose every day in our nation’s capital and 33 people a year die from overdose in Ottawa. Clearly, people who use drugs along with their family and friends, come face to face with death all the time. But what can be done? How can we save people? One answer lies in the way emergency services respond when they receive drug overdose emergency calls.

If you were to witness a heart attack, you would call 9-1-1 without hesitation. You would not think of the repercussions of making that call – someone is having a heart attack and their life needs to be saved. Now try to imagine how this scenario changes: it is not a heart attack, it is a drug overdose. Our research, published in the most recent issue of the Journal of Critical Social Work , shows that people who witness overdoses think very hard about the repercussions of making that call to 9-1-1. Sometimes these repercussions are too great – people will hesitate or not call at all.

Fear of arrest weighs heavily on this life or death decision. People legitimately fear the police showing up, being criminally charged for drug possession, and for mothers, having their children taken away. All of these consequences anxiously whirl around in the panicked mind of a witness. What happens? Over half of the people surveyed do not make the critical 9-1-1 call. Some may try to help the victim themselves, which sadly can have dangerous consequences. Street remedies can often make the situation worse. The longer someone waits for medical assistance the more likely that a life will be lost.

So what can be done? How can we save people? One idea used in Vancouver is to limit police involvement in routine overdose calls. The theory goes, if you don’t send the police there is no reason to fear calling 9-1-1. Unfortunately, this solution won’t work in many parts of Canada. In many cities and most rural communities the police are often the first responder and those in the best position to save an overdose victim’s life. A more feasible, Canada-wide option is Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Laws.  These laws protect overdose victims and someone who calls 9-1-1 from arrest for being under the influence, simple drug possession, and possessing drug paraphernalia. They do not protect people from serious offenses such as trafficking. Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Laws exist in several American states. Preliminary evaluation of Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Laws out of the United States show that 88% of opiate users are aware of the law and are more likely to call 9-1-1.

Making naloxone, also known as Narcan, available in every province without a prescription is also an essential piece of this puzzle. Naloxone can be easily administered and it temporarily counteracts the effects of drug overdose, providing precious time to get the person to the hospital. The Ontario Health Ministry recently introduced naloxone for public distribution and emergency responders watch in amazement as the compound saves lives.

Ultimately if we truly believe that every life is precious, then the answer is policy change. We need to reduce the barriers to calling 9-1-1 during routine drug overdoses by providing limited legal immunity through Good Samaritan Drug Overdoes Laws and we need to work on distributing naloxone across Canada, barrier-free. That life, that one life, would be saved.

If you ever are unfortunate enough to witness a drug overdose the correct course of action is to call 9-1-1, perform CPR if the victim has stopped breathing and administer naloxone if you have access to it.

Author: Kayla Follett is a Master of Social Work graduate, with the Newfoundland and Labrador Sexual Assault Crisis Centre. Her research on this topic was conducted during an internship with the Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council, and was published in the July 2014 issue of the Journal of Critical Social Work (co-authored by Anthony Piscitelli, Michael Parkinson and Felix Munger).

What we’re reading: Where we live matters

Posted on: January 8th, 2014 By: Juanita Metzger

Report Cover: Where we live mattersTitle: Where We Live Matters | Place-based neighbourhood work – A review, promising practice and an approach
Authors: Jody Orr and staff of Community Development Halton

This new publication from Community Development Halton is a comprehensive read for any community development animator who works directly in neighbourhoods. Recognizing that the landscape of community work has changed dramatically in the past two decades, Orr and her associates urge us to adapt our approaches with the changing needs of our communities. And in case you’ve missed it, communities have changed!

This 70 page publication makes the case for ‘place-based neighbourhood work’ and details an engagement framework (pictured below) – An Approach to Building Neighbourhoods. Community work never follows a linear process and “Where We Live Matters” recognizes that neighbourhoods operate in a cyclical, repeated fashion between all stages of the engagement process depending on the issue or situation and the people involved in the work. It’s messy, chaotic and creative work and it’s hard to capture it accurately on paper!

Model: Approach to building neighbourhoods


What I like about the model (pictured above) is that they break down the engagement process into more managable building blocks. I can’t recall ever seeing ‘readiness’ so prominantly placed in an engagement process – we all know it’s necessary – so glad to see it named in plain language. I think the distinction between social capital and social capacity is important. Too often, they are used interchangeably, but they truly are distinct concepts in community building.

The remainder of the article outlines:

  • the key characteristics of communities in which effective community building processes have been carried out,
  • the personal and professional qualities and skills of the people involved in effective neighbourhood work
  • best and promising practices in neighbourhood work, focusing on place-based activity
  • a brief history of place-based neighbourhood work

When you read the brief history of place-based work (Appendix 1), it’s easy to see how far community work has strayed from the direct neighbourhood level. “Where We Live Matters” urges a shift from the universal, service delivery approaches of the past decades, revisitng the classic community development approach of place-based work. There’s no denying it; there are unique and pressing needs in specific geographic areas of every city, town and municipality. Try as we might, universal approaches will never reach the most vulnerable neighbourhoods in our communities. The work needs to be done where it matters most – in neighbourhoods where people live, and with peole who live there.

There’s a subtext to this article that is hard to ignore. It speaks to the role of traditional service delivery institutions, large systems and govenment social policy. Essentially… these entities are too slow and inflexible enough to respond to the needs of neighbourhoods. Often, these systems and institutions are so policy bound that they actually become an obstable for the communities they are designed to be helping. Which reminds me of so many stories from the very wise Jim Diers who claims that government and large agencies are often the greatest stumbling block for neighbourhoods and communities.

Isn’t that upside down?

As a community practitioner and animator myself, it’s always refreshing to come across good applied research and this one is solidly rooted in practice and the experience of people working effectively with neighourhoods. The authors draw on the work of pioneers of community work such as:

  • Joh McKnight
  • John Kretzman
  • Bill Lee
  • Margaret Wheatley
  • Paul Mattessich, Barbara Monsey & Corinna Roy

“Where we live matters” is not new earth-shaking work, but resonates with my own community work as an animator and echoes the growing plethora of place-based initiatives such as:

To better understand the document, check out this Tamarack podcast with Joey Edwardh, Jody Orr and Rishia Burke of Community Development Halton. They lead you through this resource document including an exploration of what inspired the investigation, the important role of an “animator” who enlivens and encourages development in community, funding for work that is hard to measure, and more!

After reading “Where we live matters” I wanted to go pull the McKnight, Kretzman, Lee and Wheatley books from the bookshelf and get reacquainted with the foundations of place-based work. There’s inspiration to be found for our daily work.

But most importantly, “Where we live matters” reminds us that what goes on in our neighbourhoods and the quality of life there has the greatest impact on our quality of daily living. We absolutely should be investing in neighbourhoods.



Best of the blog: Our top 13 of 2013

Posted on: December 31st, 2013 By: Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council

I just love this time of January when you get to take a look back at what’s been accomplished over the past year, ponder what worked well and scratch your head about what emerged that you never expected.

As we turn the page into 2014, I also love the tradition of digging into our blog to find what you, the readers, found most interesting over the last year. With over 45 blog posts in 2013, there was certainly something for everyone. We had 23 different guest bloggers contribute community responses on the root causes of crime as part of the Snapshot in Time: Root Causes of Crime in Waterloo Region. You can find all the posts and community responses in one tidy corner of the blog.

But, our readers are diverse which indicates why our most popular blogs on Smart on Crime ranged from book reviews to casinos and from guest commentary to provincial budget analysis. Here’s the round up of our top 13 posts from 2013.

1. The local impact of youth unemployment/underemploymentguest post by Carol Simpson

“If youth in the labour market cannot find employment, they find it increasingly difficult to become established in the “adult” world.  They have done nothing wrong. They have done what they were told to do and were supposed to do yet cannot find that suitable connection to the workforce. This impacts their confidence and their ability to “fit in”. Many have chosen to give up and have simply walked away from the labour market making it even harder to find their “place” in the world. This results in frustration and anger and they feel neglected.”

2. What we’re reading: Rescuing Policyby Anthony Piscitelli

“How can government solve the complex issues facing society?”

3. Children in care in Waterloo Region: Compounding risk for vulnerable children by Jill Stoddart

“Children living in the care of the child welfare system have a higher likelihood of justice system involvement in comparison to children living with their biological parents”.

4. Excuse me Waterloo Region, your homelessness is showingby Lynn Macaulay

“I feel part of a sector where I join in solidarity with people experiencing homelessness and many community members who together stand up to say – people who are homeless matter.  We collectively are committed to ending homelessness in Waterloo Region. This is a lofty goal, which will take much persistence and hard work, but with the determination and skills of this community, I believe it is possible.”

5. Income of low income families: Root cause of crime in Waterloo Regionby Anthony Piscitelli

Neighbourhoods that are at an economic disadvantage when compared to other areas report higher crime rates. In addition, societies where wealth is concentrated amongst a small group of individuals report higher crime rates.

6. Through the eyes of crime prevention: Ontario 2013 Budget – prepared by Alexadra Kraushaar

A Prosperous & Fair Ontario

7. The day I went to prisonby Andrew Jackson

“Five minutes later I stood at the front of a classroom with 25 women waiting for me to start talking. “Good morning” I said. “Good morning.” came the reply from the women of Grand Valley Institution for Women (GVI).”

8. Knowing other people care: The importance of community to women who have experienced homelessnessby Elizabeth Clarke

“It goes almost without saying that the overarching cause of homelessness is poverty, but not all people who are poor become homeless. Not all people who become homeless stay that way for long.”

9. Waterloo Region’s Catholic Schools: Laying a solid foundation for student successby David DeSantis

“It is no surprise that the length of involvement in schooling significantly impacts participation in criminal activity and the probability of incarceration, as found in Snapshot in Time: Root Causes of Crime in Waterloo Region. In fact, this has been well-known in the education sector for many years – which explains the great lengths to which school boards go in mitigating against this problem.”

10. 7 things we learned from Alan Quarry about social media for social change by Juanita Metzger

“Creating change that lasts happens in relationships, from one person to another, and these days, often facilitated with the power of social media. Here are Alan’s 7 best thoughts on the principles for engaging people in change.”

11. A Snapshot in Time: The Root Causes of Crime in Waterloo Region by Anthony Piscitelli 

“The Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council believes monitoring the root causes of crime can aid the community in addressing crime, victimization and fear of crime through awareness, discussion, leadership and action. Once the root causes are understood more clearly, resources can be applied to areas where the community is doing poorly. A Snapshot in Time: The Root Causes of Crime in Waterloo Region identifies the root causes of crime right here in Waterloo Region and provides a tool to aid local policy makers in targeting interventions to where they are most needed and where they can have the greatest impact.”

12. Poverty in Waterloo Region… Is that REALLY OK with you? by Mary MacKeigan

“The data in the section of Root Causes of Crime in Waterloo Region titled Income of Low Income Families is no surprise to those of us who are familiar with poverty-related issues in our regional community. In fact, in Waterloo Region, 36 earners make more than $2.57M; 360 make more than $685K; 3,610 (the top 1%) make more than $396K. Individuals who make more than $81,200 are in the top 10%. On the other hand, the median income of the bottom 50% is $14,100!* In 2007, one third of employed individuals were earning $14.00/hour or less. This is poor – it may not be deep (or absolute) poverty, but it is precariously close to it. “

13. What are the odds? The vulnerable child of today as the problem gambler of tomorrow by Chris Sadeler

“The official position statement of the Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council given at a public consultation on the question of a casino in  the City of Kitchener. The remarks were given by WRCPC Executive Director, Christiane Sadeler on behalf of the Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council.”

So many great reads from 2013. But if you’re in the mood for something to watch, rather than read, might I suggest our personal favourite, “Won’t you be my neighbour?” Who can resist Anthony Piscitelli’s homage to Mr. Rogers!

We look forward to bringing more great smart on crime blogs for you to ponder. Better yet, we love hearing your comments, reactions and responses to the posts and guest commentaries. We look forward to hearing more from you in 2014!

What are the odds? The vulnerable child of today as the problem gambler of tomorrow?

Posted on: April 24th, 2013 By: Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council

This is the official position statement of the Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council given at a public consultation on the question of a casino in  the City of Kitchener. The remarks below were given by WRCPC Executive Director, Christiane Sadeler on behalf of the Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you tonight on the topic of a casino in Kitchener or the Waterloo Region. I am representing the Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council; I also live in downtown Kitchener.

The Crime Prevention Council opposes the opening of a casino within Waterloo Region. However, in the event that a casino should be opened here, we recommend that the development and operations of the casino must incorporate crime prevention considerations and harm reduction strategies from the very beginning.

We have provided you with a full copy of the position statement and also included some materials that we believe are relevant in this context. The position statement is also available on our website ( In the interest of time I can only highlight a few aspects of the position.

There has been no dialogue that did NOT at some point mention the concern that crimes increase in the proximity of casinos. Your own city online survey mentions safety along with considerations of health, city image and so on. Fear of long term impact on our quality of life is often as detrimental as crime itself. Perceptions can become reality. Right or wrong the connection between casinos and crime is part of public discourse. And perceptions are hard to change. We know that by now.

But what does the evidence tell us?

This is where it gets a little more grey. The research findings about a connection between crime and casinos are mixed, if not inconclusive. It would not be correct to claim that casinos have a DIRECT impact on crime, at least not an impact that would differ from that of other large entertainment facilities, at first sight. Direct links between crime and any one community action are hard to come by and must always be seen in the context of decreasing crime rates in the last decade.

We therefore must look beyond the direct connections to what we know about risks. What puts us at risk of crime, victimization, and fear of crime? It is here that the public health research is compelling and worthy of your in-depth consideration. We know that over 30% of profits in gambling come from problem gamblers and those at risk for gambling addictions. We know that these individuals share characteristics that are best defined as root causes of crime. We have detailed them in our position statement along with a report about root causes. We encourage you to consult both.

Simply put, whenever we increase the vulnerability of those already at risk, the financial and human burden to them and their families are quickly matched by the community and social costs. While casinos may not directly lead to increases in street level crime, they do lead to increases in other social ills and crimes, such as, intimate partner violence, addictions, etc. From a prevention standpoint these should concern us as much as public safety and disorder issues.

Problem gambling erodes the health of individuals and those close to them and by extension, of the communities in which they live.

The Ontario Lottery Gaming Commission does not deny that gambling addictions exist and that they come at a cost. These are brochures that are provided right at the Windsor Casino entrance, alerting patrons to these risks.

Brochures available at a casino entrance

© 2013 Waterloo Region Criime Prevention Council – Over 40 brochures available at the entrance of the Casino in Windsor, Ontario. Problem gambling treatment services to bereavement, mental health and addictions to information targeted to youth, seniors and newcomers. One brochure is provided in multiple languages.

Brochures available at a casino entrance

© 2013 Waterloo Region Criime Prevention Council

Responsible gaming literature

© 2013 Waterloo Region Criime Prevention Council – A 11/4” stack of brochures offereing problem gambling treatment services to bereavement, mental health and addictions to information targeted to youth, seniors and newcomers.

So, gambling facilities come with warning label. They also come with treatment recommendations if the warning labels were not effective. This is not forward thinking. This is resigning ourselves to the fact that along with these facilities will come problems.

Prevention is cross-generational. Are we OK with a baby born in 2013 becoming the casino patron of 2033? If the answer is, even remotely, “we are not sure”, then we need to hit pause and look more deeply at the research and the rationale for considering a casino here in the first place. Will the benefits justify the costs? Are we informed by the “8-80” concept? Is it a good decision for the 8 year old in our community AND for the 80 year old in our community no matter what walks of life they come from?

Most people who gamble may not engage in criminal activities. But those at risk of gambling addictions are vulnerable to many other issues that come at a social cost, crime among them.

We believe that for the crimes committed by the offender he or she is responsible; for not dealing with the root causes of crime when these are known to us, all of us are responsible.

However, if the decision is to bring a casino to our city the Crime Prevention Council recommends that prevention and harm reduction methods are included in the development and operations from the very beginning. In the position paper, we have outlined 12 harm reduction recommendations. These include considerations about alcohol consumption, placement of ATM machines, opening hours, self exclusion programs etc. The first recommendation is to establish a region wide advisory group with expertise in problem gambling prevention to provide input from the beginning, including during the RFP process.

In conclusion, the decision that you are faced with, in the mind of the Crime Prevention Council, is not to be taken lightly. It is a decision that will affect the well being of generations beyond all of us present here tonight. Waterloo Region is one of the safest and ultimately prosperous communities in Canada. We have become known for innovation and forward thinking. There is little innovative about a casino. We are on a solid path of creating and maintaining a safe and healthy community. It is hard to imagine that we can lose by passing on the idea of a casino. It is easier to imagine what we might lose if we take this on.

Thank you for your time and we wish you well in your decision making.

Christiane Sadeler is the Executive Director of the Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council

What We’re Reading: Rescuing Policy

Posted on: January 28th, 2013 By: Anthony Piscitelli

How can government solve the complex issues facing society?

It may be, relatively speaking, straightforward for a government to cut taxes or make the trains run on time but alleviating poverty, reducing crime or eliminating pollution are problems too difficult for government alone to solve. In a previous video post, I discussed how politicians react to public opinion by creating public policy. I argued for a complex relationship between public opinion and policy. I’m about to contradict myself….. this is not always the case. In some instances political parties attempt to react directly to public opinion and create straightforward policy solutions.

In Rescuing Policy: The Case for Public Engagement, author  Don Lenihan argues that the ‘consumer model of politics’ is the wrong approach. In the consumer model, political parties try to address the very specific concerns of voters in hopes of winning their support. Instead of addressing the big, long term, complex issues facing society, parties try and focus on simple solutions while avoiding taking positions on anything that might lose them support.

Lenihan believes this model cannot be used to deal with the difficult problems society faces because simple solutions are generally not effective at addressing complex issues. To borrow from another book, Getting to Maybe outlines a simple problem like baking a cake beside a complex problem like raising a child. A one page recipe probably will not give you the information you need to raise a child who turns into a healthy, well adjusted adult.

Simple, Complicated and Complex Problems
Simple Complicated Complex
Baking a Cake Sending a Rocket to the Moon Raising a Child
The recipe is essential Rigid protocols or formulas are needed Rigid protocols have a limited application or are counter-productive
Recipes are tested to assure easy replication Sending one rocket increases the likelihood that the next will also be a success Raising one child provides experience but is not guarantee of success with the next
No particular expertise is required, but experience increases success rate High levels of expertise and training in a variety of fields are necessary for success Expertise helps but only when balanced with responsiveness to the particular child
A good recipe produces nearly the same cake every time Key elements of each rocket MUST be identical to succeed Every child is unique and must be understood as an individual
The best recipes give good results every time There is a high degree of certainty of outcome Uncertainty of outcome remains
A good recipe notes the quantity and nature of the “parts” needed and specifies the order in which to combine them, but there is room for experimentation Success depends on a blueprint that directs both the development of separate parts and specifies the exact relationship in which to assemble them Can’t separate the parts from the whole; essence exists in the relationship between different people, different experiences, different moments in time

From “Getting to Maybe. How the World is Changed” (2006) Frances Westley, Brenda Zimmerman, Michael Quinn Patton

Similarly, Lenihan argues societal problems cannot be solved by a government led effort which is focused on simple solutions designed first and foremost to help win re-election. Instead Lenihan believes true collaboration between government, citizen and stakeholder groups is needed to create effective policy solutions.

Lenihan does not just criticize the current state of policy making, he also offers a solution. He recommends a model of public engagement where governments have a real dialogue with citizens. Many books and experts suggest that government needs to do a better job of listening to people but Lenihan takes this approach a step further. Instead of just asking for citizen concerns or people’s suggested solutions (i.e. consultation) he proposes that government, the public and stakeholders collectively develop an action plan with each group committing to playing a role in solving the problems identified. This is the key distinction. Most public engagement strategies stop at gathering input from citizens and then it is government’s responsibility to react to this input. Lenihan’s approach gathers input from citizens then once this input is received citizens are asked to work with government on implementing solutions.

Seeing a book defend this approach is reassuring for staff of the Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council (WRCPC).

WRCPC, since its inception, has consistently followed this philosophy. Our projects regularly engage the public in the work of creating and implementing solutions to complex problems. Recently, for example, we created a plan to help children & youth involved the criminal justice system and the child welfare system (commonly known as crossover children because they ‘crossover’ from the child welfare system into the criminal justice system). The plan, like any good government strategy, was developed in consultation with the community but we echoed Lenihan’s approach and developed tasks for WRCPC and tasks for community agencies like Family and Children’s Services of the Waterloo Region. It is nice to know when asking our partners to implement solutions with us we are on strong intellectual grounding.

Rescuing Policy does an excellent job of conveying the importance of shifting away from the consumer model of politics and explaining at a high level an alternative approach to consulting with the public. However, the book fails at providing the tools for practitioners to easily replicate the public engagement methods discussed in the book. Towards the end of Rescuing Policy, Lenihan touches on his plans to release a manual or textbook on designing public engagement processes. When this textbook is complete it will hopefully aid policy makers to put into practice the ideas contained in Rescuing Policy.

Rescuing Policy is available free from The Public Policy Forum. Electronic copies are available online here or you can order a copy here. If you develop public engagement processes, or want the help change the landscape for how public engagement is carried out in our communities,  I encourage you to pick up a copy of this insightful book.

Author: Anthony Piscitelli is Supervisor, Planning & Research with the Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council. He collaborates on all research efforts published by WRCPC in addition to running the office sports pools.

By the Numbers: The power of crime policy to shape (your) public opinion [video]

Posted on: October 12th, 2012 By: Smart on Crime

Do politicians and a debate about policy and policy changes impact public opinion? Anthony Piscitelli asked this question at the end of the previous episode and now he reveals his answer!

Indeed, policy changes made at the political level appear to have some influence on public opinion and attitudes toward crime and the criminal justice system. Politicians have a role in leading public opinion but they also have a role in following it. When politicians float a ‘trial balloon’ policy, it is often in an attempt to test the waters of public opinion of a particular issue. Remember Bill C-30? The ‘cyber surveillance’ bill was tabled early in 2012 but was quickly pulled off the table due to a huge public outcry and several social media campaigns. It has yet to reappear….

The main message of these ‘By the Numbers’ videos is still this: the relationship between public opinion, policy and political decision makers is complex – more than complicated! Know that your opinion matters, listen carefully about issues that matter to you… and learn to read between the lines – or, the numbers.

Thanks for watching! Do you have any ‘by the numbers’ worthy topics you are curious about? If you have something you would like to see covered in an episode of ‘By the Numbers’, leave a comment below or contact us info [at]

A huge thank you to the staff & team at Gibson Sound & Vision, Waterloo for accommodating us at their store to record this video!

By the Numbers: It’s complicated…. [video]

Posted on: October 9th, 2012 By: Smart on Crime

Everyone wants to know… how do political leaders make their decisions about crime policy anyway? Are they influenced by public opinion polls? Do politicians influence public attitudes?

In the first episode of this By The Numbers series, Anthony Piscitelli guided us through 40 years of historical data on public attitudes toward the criminal justice system. In genearal, the evidence showed some interesting trends:

  • more people are gravitating towards crime prevention rather than law enforcement as a means for preventing crime,
  • more people thinking that crime is falling,
  • less support for harsher sentences,
  • more support for the justice system
  • dramatic drops in support for capital punishment

But the trends are not the whole picture. In this episode, Anthony brings up some other factors that influence public opinions and the possible relationship between public attitudes and how crime policy is formed. It’s complicated… to say the least!!

So, what do you think? Is this overly complicated? Is there a connection between public attitudes and crime policy? Does a debate about crime policy influence pubic opinions? Looking forward to hearing what you have to say!


By the Numbers: An introduction to 40 years of public opinion on crime… in 4 minutes [video]

Posted on: October 2nd, 2012 By: Smart on Crime

You probably already know this about the Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council, but it bears repeating…. When a wicked question1 comes our way, we’re not satisfied until we get an answer, even if it means tons of research and pounds of data!

Our wicked question began to take shape with the introduction of the Safe Streets and Communities Act in Canada (Bill C-10). This omnibus crime legislation was ushered in with a ‘tough on crime’ message that seemed to resonate with some of the voting public and certainly elicited an emotional reaction. True to our investigative nature here at the WRCPC, it got us thinking… and a wicked question was born. We wanted to know, “Does the tough on crime message work?” And if so, for what purpose? We were also curious to know, “Is there another message that captures prevention, addressing root cause issues and being ‘smart on crime that would resonate as much as tough on crime”?

We know… these are massive questions and we can only begin to scratch the surface of this topic! Here’s our attempt. We started with 40 years of public opinion data on the criminal justice system to determine if there are any particular trends over time. We found some interesting ones which Anthony Piscitelli starts to uncover in this first video of a three-part series looking at the relationship between public opinion of the criminal justice system and crime policy in Canada.

So, what do you think? Does this raise any wicked questions for you? Does public opinion influence political decision making? Or do politicians influence public attitudes?


Footnote: “Wicked questions do not have an obvious answer. They are used to expose the assumptions which shape our actions and choices. They are questions that articulate the embedded and often contradictory assumptions we hold about an issue, context or organization. A question is ‘wicked’ if there is an embedded paradox or tension in the question.” From: Tamarack Learning Centre

What really happened when Little Red Riding Hood met the Wolf

Posted on: September 17th, 2012 By: Frank Johnson

I wish this were a fairy tale but sadly, it’s all too true. Every so often my white bread world is, to quote a British friend, “gobsmacked” (shaken, astonished, shocked) and this was the case recently when I attended a workshop on the issue of human trafficking in Canada. The event was sponsored by the Downtown East Project and hosted by the Steps to Change Diversion Program. Mill Courtland Community Association in conjunction with the Waterloo Region Police Services, the Bylaw Enforcement Division of the City of Kitchener, along with other community associations, are partners in an attempt to alert the public and various levels of government to the prevalence and severity of human trafficking. It’s an issue that largely flies under the radar of most citizens though I hope this will change in the near future as its cost in human terms is incalculable. Human trafficking is different from human smuggling. According to the RCMP, human trafficking involves the recruitment, transportation or harbouring of persons for the purpose of exploitation (typically as sex trade workers for forced construction labour) whereas human smuggling is a form of illegal migration involving the organized transport of a person across an international border for money.

Photo: Timea Nagy
Timea Nagy – Photo Credit:

Timea Nagy is a survivor of human trafficking and speaks to audiences in Canada and internationally about her experience. It is harrowing to listen to. Timea first became a victim of trafficking when she lived in Hungary. She was looking for a way to make money to help pay debts and was approached by a woman who offered her an opportunity to come to Canada where she could work as a baby sitter. The woman seemed sincere and offered Timea a contract written entirely in English. Timea neither spoke nor read English but trusted the woman. Upon arrival in Canada she was kept at Customs and questioned by officers who were seeing many Eastern European women entering the country under false pretenses. The officers, through an interpreter, explained the contract to her. She was expected to work as an exotic dancer and Timea, disoriented, exhausted and confused was just beginning a saga that would forever change her life.

She was sent back to Hungary but not before meeting up with members of the crime ring sent to meet her. They informed her of her debt incurred through the plane ticket and how she was to pay it back. That night she was taken to a strip club and raped. This was the start of the intentional dehumanization process used to control her mind and her body. Threats to her family in Hungary were made and though she was returned to Hungary, the threats continued in her home country. Feeling trapped, she returned to Canada to work to pay off her debt to the criminal organization. This world was completely foreign to her, literally and metaphorically. Timea, in her own words, was a good girl, whose mother was a police officer and Timea lived a fairly sheltered life. She was completely unprepared for the life she was to face. As she tells it, it was almost impossible to pay the debt because she was charged for ‘expenses’ such as $360.00 for an oil change or $560.00 to replace the headlight for the car used to take her to the club. If she or any of the other girls was late being picked up for their work shift (11 am to 2 am the following day) they were charged $100. 00 per minute. Girls like Timea were afraid to go to the police as some had bad experiences in their country of origin. They were broken down psychologically, almost as one in a prison camp, their dignity was stripped away and they did whatever they were told for fear of retribution but also, because many had lost the will to fight back. They were strangers in a strange land and this sense of fear was used as a form of manipulation and control.

Police forces at all levels have joined together to pursue, capture and prosecute those who traffic in human slavery. This is an international battle as criminal gangs, organized for this specific purpose, generate huge profits that cross borders every day. Many countries are moving forward with legislation and police resources but it’s not easy to get convictions if the victims are too traumatized to come forward or are kept virtual prisoners in motel rooms across the country, driven to strip bars or construction sites where few questions are asked.

Locally, the hope is to create a task force including enforcement groups and those providing recovery and support to develop a comprehensive action plan and strategic approach to help victims and also reduce the instances of this criminal activity.

We often think that slavery no longer exists but, having spent a day learning about human trafficking, it’s clear this evil continues to thrive in societies around the world. If you’d like to learn more, visit some of the links listed below and help join the battle against human trafficking.

I think you’ll be gobsmacked as well. It doesn’t feel good does it?

Additional Resources

Author: Frank Johnson is a regular guest writer for Smart on Crime in Waterloo Region. Frank is a retired principal with the local Catholic school board, a dad, and sometimes runner who possesses an irreverent sense of humour that periodically gets him in trouble. He lives in Waterloo, Ontario.

Frank Johnson’s writing reflects his own opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views or official positions of the Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council.