"There's no trend there."
Staff-Insp. Brian Raybould, homicide squad
Despite the spinning of small comfort that no trend exists in
the perceived increase in murder-by-knife, the 14-year-old daughter of
two Toronto cops will be laid to rest today in a private funeral
Stefanie Rengel, left bleeding to death from stab wounds only
a few steps from her St. Clair-O'Connor home on New Year's Day, will be
going to her grave with the tragic distinction of being Toronto's first
murder victim of 2008.
And so the count in this city is already on, as two teens, a
15-year-old girl and a then 17-year-old boy, stand charged with
first-degree murder, their identities protected by the stringent
confines of the Youth Criminal Justice Act, and despite the fact the
boy yesterday turned 18 -- proof, once again, that timing is everything
when it comes to a flawed law.
In Selkirk, Man., just north of Winnipeg, again on New Year's
Day, a 16-year-old boy named Mike Woloshyn was stabbed to death at a
house party shortly after midnight, and a 17-year-old boy, his name too
protected by the Youth Criminal Justice Act, was taken into custody and
later charged with second-degree murder.
Big city, small town. It seems not to matter.
While the head of Toronto's homicide squad may see no trend in
stabbing deaths in this city, the federal MP whose private member's
bill wants mandatory minimum sentences for defined circumstances
involving knife crimes is seeing the trend building across the country
-- knife murder after knife murder, and knifing after knifing.
"The real statistics show that there are more knife killings
in Canada than shootings," says Leeds-Grenville Tory MP Gord Brown.
"The trend is there, and it has to be stopped.
"We want to see eight years as a minimum sentence for a crime committed with a knife, or any concealed weapon.
"It's a joke that anyone can take another person's life with a knife and be eligible for parole in 18 months," says Brown.
"That has to change."
Back in May, 2005, Gord Brown tabled private member's Bill
C-393 in the House of Commons, his response to the knife murder of the
promising son of two constituents in his St. Lawrence Seaway riding.
Long thought to be on fallow ground, the bill has since been
resurrected and, unless the minority government of Prime Minister
Stephen Harper falls, it will get its second reading in the spring
session of Parliament.
Henry Danninger once had a knife. In fact, he called it a
"bad-assed knife" -- his description of the weapon that he drove
through the heart of Andrew Moffitt, a high-achieving engineering
student at the University of Ottawa who, as a reward for stepping into
a fracas at an Ottawa bar that was not of his making, was posthumously
awarded the Governor General's Award for Bravery in 2003.
In Henry Danninger, Gord Brown had his poster boy for tougher
knife laws. Not only was Danninger from Brockville, the epicentre of
Brown's federal riding, so too was the 23-year-old man he killed --
even though their lives had never crossed paths until that night in an
Ottawa tavern on the eve of Christmas Eve, 1998, when Danninger went to
settle a drug score and shanked an innocent bystander with his
In the end, Danninger pleaded guilty to second-degree murder
and, although he served the majority of his five-year term because of
insolence and lack of remorse, he was legally eligible for parole after
only 18 months in prison.
"And that," says Brown, "did not sit well with me either."
Scott Newark, a former Alberta Crown prosecutor, former
executive-director of the Canadian Police Association, special counsel
to the Ontario Office for Victims of Crime, and a former policy adviser
to the federal Tories now living in Brockville, assisted in the writing
of Bill C-393.
And he is quick to discount Toronto homicide Staff-Insp. Brian
Raybould's assertion that "there's no trend there" when it comes to
murder-by-knife and stabbings.
"How can that statement be made when stabbings in Toronto were
up 10% over two years?" asks Newark. "Even the notion that we should
somehow be comfortable with any level of violence is baffling.
"Where in years gone by disputes were settled with fists,
today increasingly someone is pulling a concealed knife and, not
surprisingly, the stakes have gone way up."
The statistics tend to back Newark.
When stabbings are included in death-by-knife stats, there were 388 stabbing victims in Toronto in 2004, and 420 in 2006.
What Newark also found unsettling was the comment made by
Raybould in the press that "if you're not involved in a gang, if you
are not selling or buying drugs, if you are not selling firearms or in
the sex trade, you don't get killed in Toronto."
"It's not a good sign of civil authority to get comfortable
with any level of violence," says Newark. "The value of Bill C-393 is
that it builds deterrence into the scenario -- if you pack a knife, or
conceal a weapon, you're going to jail.
"While deterrence doesn't work for everyone, it does work with
many people, especially young who quickly learn there is no meaningful
consequences for their actions."
Back in July, the chief of police for the city of Kingston
urged his civilian board to implore Ottawa to pass Bill C-393 --
arguing that politicians are too focused on gun violence in Toronto,
and should focus more on knife crimes.
"We have tunnel vision for guns," says Chief Bill Closs,
citing numbers compiled by Statistics Canada for 2005 that show only
31% of violent-crime victims across the country were attacked with guns
while 68% were attacked with knives or other sharp objects.
In his own city that year, 212 service calls went out related to guns, but there were 304 related to knives.
It was worst, in fact, in 19 municipalities polled -- including
Guelph, Belleville, Cornwall, Ottawa, as well as areas patrolled by the
OPP -- where 75% of the victims of violent crime suffered injuring as
the result of knives or sharp objects.
"There are a lot of guns and gangs on the streets of the GTA,
but when you look at other municipalities, or Canada, there's something
going on with knives," says Closs.
"We can't lose sight of how knives are becoming the weapon of choice."