The “root causes” questions have been asked

By Patrick Hunter Wednesday April 24 2013 in Uncategorized
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Justin Trudeau is right. And so is President Obama.


In the wake of the Boston bombing, Trudeau noted, in an interview with the CBC’s Peter Mansbridge, that in addition to taking all the security precautions in the immediate aftermath of an event like this, there is a need to examine the “root causes” for these kinds of activities.


President Obama, in the same vein, asked the same question: Why would people who had lived here, studied here, feel that they need to take these actions to get their message across, whatever that may be?


The questions have been asked. And they have been asked, time and again, after these kinds of tragedies and extreme actions. Boston was not the first. Regrettably, it probably will not be the last. In most of these cases, answers have been provided but little action taken. The most frequent action taken is to beef up the security forces – provide additional funding to police for weapons and intelligence-gathering resources. It is the easier and more politically advantageous response. There is always a reluctance – and I am being kind here – to tackle the meatier and more difficult issue of the “root causes”.


Prime Minister Harper, in response to the observation Trudeau made, was typical of what we have come to expect, it seems, of some in government. Harper’s response was: you don’t sit around and determine root causes and make excuses. He goes on to say, you condemn it and to the extent that you can deal with the perpetrators, you deal with them harshly. This from a prime minister whose duty, among others, is to ensure that the process of justice is followed. It is a comment that seems to suggest the legitimizing of vigilantism.


In May 1992, things got out of hand at a demonstration by African Canadians in Toronto in response to the dismissal of the case against Los Angeles police officers in the violent beating of African American Rodney King. That beating incident was caught on tape yet the officers were freed. The Toronto demonstration resulted in some incidents of vandalism and looting. Those who were responsible directly for the vandalism and looting, where they were found, were arrested and tried.


The government of the day, however, recognized that there was more to this than meets the eye. Then premier, the NDP’s Bob Rae, asked Stephen Lewis to look into the matter and come up with some recommendations and solutions. The report, in the form of a letter the premier, did just that and some of the recommendations were put into action. One of the outstanding outcomes of that report was the naming of “anti-Black racism”: “First, what we are dealing with, at root, and fundamentally, is anti-Black racism.” The Lewis report, by the way, was not the only such report done on that occasion. Another, “Towards a New Beginning” was also submitted from a joint Four Levels of Government/Community Task Force.


The succeeding government, led by Mike Harris, proceeded to undo many of the attempts to make “root” changes, including eliminating the terminology of “racism” from the vocabulary of the Ontario government.


Fast forward to May 2007. A young Black student was shot in his school. The Premier of the day, Dalton McGuinty, asked former Ontario chief justice, Roy McMurtry and former Speaker of the Legislature, Alvin Curling to look into the “root causes” of violence among our youth. The recommendations were submitted a year later, and the report sat on the proverbial shelves for a long time when, only recently, some were dusted off and versions put into effect.


This is not to suggest that the bombs in Boston are excusable. It was a reprehensible act and nothing can justify the innocent lives taken and the horrific injuries suffered by more than 100 people.


In the same way, no one can condone the violence that took place in the Toronto scenarios outlined above. And, while it may not be possible to eliminate all or most of the root causes that prompt individuals into taking these drastic actions, it is incumbent on our society to do what we can to reduce them.


The story of Boston is yet to be told. At the time of writing this, from all the reporting, the suspects seem to be two middle class brothers whose only identifying connection to trouble, has to do with their national origin, Chechnya, which has seen some nationalistic troubles over the past few years.


The question that one has to ask of Trudeau, and get answers to, is: If and when he becomes prime minister, will he follow his own advice and pursue those root causes, particularly as it concerns our racialized youth?


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