CRIME IS TIMELESS
History a way of experiencing at second hand all kinds of human behaviour.
Canada, founded on the principles of peace, order and good government, is a country where personal security has always been considered a simple fact of life. The safety we have taken for granted is increasingly at risk and Prime Minister Harper has promised to overhaul criminal justice and bring in legislation that will see criminals who do the crime serve longer time.
A newspaper article warns of the future. "Without some more effectual means being adopted to punish criminals for acts of felony than exist at present, the consequences will be dreadful and the community will be in constant danger of their lives and property."
Right out of yesterday's newspaper? No. The dateline on this dire declaration is January 24, 1832. Consternation over crime is not new for "copious wickedness" was common in Upper Canada. Harsher penalties were demanded even in those more brutal times when sentences were severe, legal niceties were non-existent and no one was concerned about human rights.
Some blamed the cause of the crime on heavy immigration and the social disorganization resulting therefrom. Demands were made to "bridle the unruly dispositions" caused by the "influx of criminal elements" from one country in particular - Ireland. Statistics confirmed the Emerald Isle as the origin of most persons, male and female, committed to gaol.
Lord Dalhousie, Governor of British North America urged an end to Irish immigration to Canada. Others including Sir Peregrine Maitland, Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada, called for caution and suggested that the Irish were unfairly faulted and that some of their violent behaviour was triggered by bigotry and a jaundiced view of the "rootless arrivals." Maitland hinted at this hostility when he wondered aloud why a deputy sheriff had not been charged for wounding two Irishmen apparently without cause.William Lyon Mackenzie, no stranger to strife himself, blamed the clash of people from "different countries and conflicting creeds." His solution: restrict immigration and preserve the traditional values "threatened by these new forces."
However, a public inquiry attributed the causes of crime to the "numerous grog shops with which Toronto is infested." Tippling houses abounded and drunkenness was endemic. Liquor enlivened every event and any excuse was given for "taking the horn." Fairs, funerals, marriages, circuses, christenings - all frequently ended in "the rude and boisterous roar of riot." While bylaws restricted bowling as an indolent recreation, no laws or limits were placed on liquor. Construction workers demanded and got a kind 'binge benefit,' a daily ration of rum.
Then came the weekend. It was TGIS with a vengeance for Sunday revels commenced on Saturday and continued until Monday morning. Rioting was the predictable result of fighting and foul language. Revellers raced horses around town at breakneck speed endangering the lives and limbs of innocent passersby. Vagrants and vagabonds hounded the inhabitants for handouts or simply helped themselves. No sooner was the "transient trash" run out of town than back they came to badger and bargain with goods they had "found lying around."
In the absence of public funds to hire police to keep the peace volunteer groups patrolled the streets and while councils found no money to fund the forces, they did buy 'constable staves' for the part-time peacekeepers. It seems that keeping the peace was fine unless it became too restrictive. In 1843 an irate mob drove several zealous magistrates out of town.
In the hard and often brutal environment violence was never far from voice and arguments quickly degenerated into personal assaults. These were so common they were treated with laxity by the law with fines alone being levied for assault. The late 1840s saw an incredible increase in crime in Toronto which led in lawlessness. Things became so bad the city formed the first non-military police force - a six-man squad with distinctive caps and coasts. Fear of growing disorder changed the public's tolerant attitude and instead of fines for bully-boys sentences were served in newly constructed penitentiaries, creations of the Victorian era.
Punishments were severe and usually carried out in public to shame as well as pain. A perjurer was yoked for two days "with everyone looking on." Torment was an important component of punishment and being burned on the hand or the head was not uncommon. Public whippings were administered in the market place with thirty-nine strokes of the 'cat' laid on the bare back. The last lash was applied publicly to two thieves in 1834.
Supposedly the sentence fitted the crime and it frequently spoke volumes about social values. In 1850 a horse thief was given five years hard labour while a man received three years for manslaughter, the victim - his wife.
Canadians thought law and order their most prominent social issue and social disorganization the most strikingly fearful feature of life. On the other hand American visitors to the province saw only tranquility and were mightily impressed with the country's freedom from serious crime.
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