(eBaums world)

“1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol— that our lives had become unmanageable.”

-Alcoholics Anonymous, the first step of the 12-step program

Wanna make Manitoba — home of the violent crime capital of Canada — a safer place to live?

Want to make a meaningful effort to restore public order after this election season?

Then we need to take meaningful, even drastic, steps to get Manitoba’s booze problem under control.

Reductions in violent crime will follow, and I’d imagine pretty quickly at that.

While all signs point to the abuse of booze being the single most common factor in all occurrences of violent crime, Manitoba is moving forward — with plans to get booze into the hands of people in easier and more convenient ways.

Bars and clubs in Winnipeg are packed, night after night, even though the majority of people that I know anyway readily admit they’re only somewhat fun to be at; that the overall experience is kind of sad from a social-interaction perspective.

Why is that?

Casinos in Winnipeg — all government controlled — are also doing brisk business, despite the fact winning it big is a losing proposition for most.

Why is that?

The Manitoba Liquor Control Commission rings up record sales year after year after year according to its annual reports. Sales keep climbing, along with the violent crime rate. (In millions of dollars)

2007 — $521,380

2008 — $554,769

2009 — $583,763

2010 — $610,515

Why is that?

Despite a decline in the number of charges laid last year over 2009, impaired driving in Manitoba remains a massive public safety issue. Each time police run a project to crack down on the crime, drunk drivers are caught. There’s never a time the cops head home after a Checkstop shift scratching their heads and saying, ‘ I guess that’s been taken care of.’

Why is that?

I’m no expert in addictions, and I like a cold beer like pretty much everyone else.

But one thing I can say from experience, is that if a serious violent crime happens in Winnipeg, booze is likely a backdrop to the events leading up to it.

Just look at the incredibly serious cases making recent headlines in Winnipeg’s crime news:

Nikita Eaglestick abducts a baby and inexplicably smashes its face on a sidewalk. She was so drunk she couldn’t remember anything about doing it or what led up to it. At the time, she was on bail and bound by a court order to abstain from drinking.

A drinking party in the northern fringes of the West End prompts family members to arm themselves and spill into the streets. A man is run over and killed when a van is used as a weapon. A teen girl faces a first-degree murder charge and an attempted murder charge to boot.

A man twice hailed as a hero for saving people from drowning admits that his chronic alcoholism was a major factor in contributing to an assault on a city doctor when she didn’t have any money to offer him.

“(Faron) Hall said he looks forward to getting out of jail soon, but added that he is nervous because he doesn’t know if or how he can get counselling to kick his alcohol addiction.”

These are but a few of the most blatant and easy to find examples at my fingertips.

But also consider how youth violent crime is also rising. Do we know precisely what role FASD plays in that? Anecdotally, everyone knows it’s a huge issue, and one that’s expensive and complex to fix. We largely leave that largely to an overtaxed justice system to ferret out and try to stem.

But in this provincial election season, we need to come to grips with what the real problem is and expect those who want to lead us into the future to show some vision on this front. If the provincial government can’t change the criminal law per se, it can change the atmosphere in which the law exists. It does, at the end of the day, have the Liquor Control Act in its back pocket.

Instead, the electorate is promised more police officers as the primary way of boosting public safety or order, the cure-all for our seemingly intractable crime issues.

Let’s think about that.

We know that the number one — by a huge margin — call for service police officers spend their times going to are domestic disturbances. (17,019 dispatched calls in 2009. The next highest was ‘check wellbeing’ (also booze-influenced) at 7,862).

How many of those domestics are booze-related — ie: Jimmy got pissed and beat Janey up again?

Eighty per cent? I’d guess it’s even possibly higher.

If we as a society were to try and get a handle on our booze problem, how much police resource time would be saved for officers to do other things? I’d suggest it would be huge. The need for new cops would be nil.

We also know that bootlegging outside the city onto so-called ‘dry’ reserves is a huge problem.

Kives had a good column on new cops as election pledge today.

Look: I know there’s the argument of personal responsibility here. People have to be held accountable for what they choose to ingest and the public’s fed up with intoxication being used as a defence against  culpability for vile criminal acts.

(FASD presents a thorny issue, though, as most would readily admit that unborns can’t make the choice to have that vodka shot or not).

But let’s at least call a spade a spade and take the first step in admitting Manitoba has a drinking problem.

Since the state regulates the sale and consumption of booze, and profits greatly from it, we should demand nothing less. It’s time to have a real discussion about crime in our province and how to meaningfully affect change.

And now — at least up until Oct. 4 is the time we did it.


16 thoughts on “The first step is admitting there’s a problem

  1. It’s long been my conviction that attempting to fight crime or poverty without tackling addictions is essentially deadening the pain without treating the cancer. You just cannot have a reasonable dialogue about solving either of those things without also talking about addictions; and yet, political discussions tend to do just that, as if either crime or poverty happens in a vacuum.

    I don’t tend to think the Liquor Act is the problem, though I’m open to seeing that differently, but addictions to other substances fuel crime and poverty as well. My feeling is that making booze more difficult to access won’t stem the rate of addiction — it will just make addicts more desperate to obtain it.

    The problem is access to addictions outreach and services — the Addictions Foundation is terribly underfunded. Has been for years. And correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe so far only Jon Gerrard has entered a significant statement on addictions into the current provincial campaign.

    1. And I also want to clarify further: I’m not pointing the finger at any pols particularly. I’m more interested in the fact that booze sales keep rising, and from the crime piece, it’s clear it has a significant impact on crime rates. Why are we getting so drunk, so often, I guess is my question? If everything is rosy as we’re led to believe, then why the drowning of so many sorrows?

  2. James, in all three examples, we have some people of aboriginal descent. In the Garfield fiasco, it was two gangster families from the rez having a booze filled full blown gang fight. Eaglestick comes from where?
    Faron has discussed with many people about what he feels has led to his alcoholism, including the bad element that he hangs around with.
    If people have been socialized into a system that promises to take care of them as if they were children, then society must take responsibility for their actions. However, if society takes on this responsibility, then it must also assume and take control for the same people using adult things irrisonsibly, leading them to kill themselves and others.
    I watched two people at the osborne MLCC sell 65(sixty five!) mickeys of rye last week. When I suggested that these folks, who look like they might be from a rural place, if they might have any specific plans for all these mickeys, like maybe reselling, they grinned sheepishly and looked down walking out with a bag in each hand.
    When I asked the MLCC cashier about it, she told me that it happens all of the time, but that they are not the police. This is the type of responsible retailing that goes on when the government is keeping an eye on this issue. Yeah, we sure need more access to booze.NOT!

    1. Hi Brett: thanks for reading. I did a post recently that relates to bootlegging and politics [and policing].


      What struck me as interesting is a seeming unwillingness on behalf of the RCMP [Manitoba’s rural police force, by and large] to enforce laws that would take the tools of bootlegging out of the hands of those who do it.

      What’s a bet those bottles were Windsor Whiskey … plastic doesn’t break.

  3. Living in Thompson, it’s not the expensive stuff that people are getting drunk on. It’s the ultra cheap stuff. And up here, the LC closes at 7 M-T, 8 F-S, and 6 on Sunday. Its painful for me, as I rarely start thinking of dinner (let alone wine pairing) before 6. But I live in Thompson, so it’s understandable. AND, we even have a limit to the amount of bottles of the hard cheap stuff that you can buy. So there is *some* small amount of responsibility at the LC up here.

    I’ll certainly agree alcohol is the key factor in most crime, especially violent crime. Though I think half the time it’s more Janey started throwing something at Jonny (assault with a weapon) so he hit her back (simple assault)- but that’s a whole other controversy.

    It’s a different world up here, and on the rez. Drinking regularly and drinking to really drunk is so normal. Kids grow up seeing parents drunk more than sober. There are many many different levels of ‘drunk’ up here. Mouthy drunk, angry drunk, happy drunk, really drunk, black out drunk… and most people seem to think that unless you’re barely-able-to-walk-drunk, you’re not really that drunk.

    I liked that the Libs were going to put money into treatment- it would help a lot of people, and would certainly lower some people’s criminal involvement. Believe me, I’m all for more help being available to anyone who wants to change.

    But sadly there are still not nearly enough resources in the North, especially remote communities, and there’s an underlying ‘unintended’ cultural problem mixed into substance abuse for many from aboriginal communities. And because Wpg has more people, I’m sure Wpg will get the resources before ‘The North’.

    1. Belle: Thanks for the thoughtful response. It’s clear it’s a province-wide issue. I want to be clear, the above post wasn’t intended to point the finger at the MLCC or Lotteries, or even the government, per se.

      Simply wanted to note what I perceive as being a major underlying influence on crime and tax on justice resources that goes undiscussed.

  4. After seeing dozens of homicides, stabbings, shootings and other violent criminal acts every other day, I concur with James: Alcohol is the root-cause of Winnipeg’s out-of-control crime.

    When you piss on your foot, what’s the solution? Stop pissing on your foot.

    When the sink is overflowing, what’s the solution? Turn off the tap.

    When the TV is too loud, what’s the solution? Turn it down.

    When we have alcoholics and “bar people” causing crime in Winnipeg EVERY minute of every day, what’s the solution? Apparently keep handing out the booze, because there is no solution. No one wants to confront these losers and take away their crutch.

    Why is it everyone needs their “fix” in this city? Try taking away the alcohol “fix” from someone and they’ll get very violent and aggressive with you. It’s as if they’re zombies.

    James’ article is bang-on. Unfortunately our politicians and policy-makers are too weak, scared and fragile to tackle the root-causes of crime in this city of alcoholics. Perhaps they’re alcoholics, too.

    McLeod – Overnight video-journalist

    1. Thanks for the reply, McLeod. There’s a contradiction in saying the province is moving forward when it seems as if so many are really lurching forward, drunkenly.

  5. Prohibition worked so well in the 20’s let’s try it again. how about holding these people responsible for their actions. Stop letting them off over and over again. An addiction is not a disease, it is a choice, well except for crack babies.

  6. Thanks for bringing up the issue. Addictions surely account for the majority of crime in Manitoba, booze is the #1 addiction by far.

    Personal responsibility and a choice, requiring ignoring the addicts, or an affliction that requires medical intervention and helping the addicts?
    Answer that question as has the NDP and the Conservatives so, and you will get your answer from them.

  7. To bad none of you have taken in to account unemployment , dropped out of school and of course the perenial no fixxed address for reasons that fuel crime . While bozze may be invoved it is not the cause just the courage. The biggest cause is poverty not boozze it is time for the approach to it to change and the justice system to follow suit . For till the hopelessness of the rez is gone and the boredom of useless hands taken care of , people will fight .

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