Toronto Sun: - So who's packing a knife?
Toronto Sun: - So who's packing a knife?

January 20, 2008

So who's packing a knife?


More than half of the 600 who responded to the Sun's online poll say they carry a knife

Near the beginning of last week -- in the midst of the Sun's online survey directed at youth, "Who's Packing a Knife?" -- the Chinguacousy Secondary School in Brampton went into lockdown after a 16-year-old boy was repeatedly stabbed in the foyer of the school he did not attend, and a 17-year-old male student at the school was quickly arrested on various assault and weapons charges.

A trend? Or an aberration?

Judging by the Sun's survey, it is no one-off, as more than half of the 600-plus respondents to the 11 questions presented, many of them under the age of 17, indicated they indeed packed a knife -- primarily for "protection" or because their "environment demanded it" -- and with a full one-tenth of that number indicating they required some form of medical attention for a knife wound at one time or another.

Some 20% also claimed knives are regularly being seized at their schools, and those under 14 who admitted to packing said they do so mostly for "protection," with bullying often the factor.

Only occasionally was "trendy" cited as the prime reason for packing a knife, although these "pop poll" results are certainly open to interpretation. But they also indicate that trends do play a role.

According to Dr. Sam Klarreich, a Toronto psychologist whose practice is located in Toronto's downtown core and includes teenaged clients, the survey "does show a trend towards packing a knife among the youth, no question about it," and that's regardless of how scientific the survey is or isn't -- "simply because of the (large) number of responses." "And it's a scary trend, at that," he said. "Trends matter -- whether they're established by the mass media, like movies, rock videos, or whatever. They have a huge importance to youth.

"If whatever it is turns out to be cool, then it will be copied," said Klarreich. "Clothing trends are huge among our youth, and if it now includes a knife, then a knife will be a part of the look.

"Scary, yes, but real."

When the multiple-choice online survey first went live, and it is the first of its kind in the Sun's history, it caught the attention of a Toronto-based national magazine for youth called, simply, The Magazine, and, with permission granted, the survey was promptly put on The Magazine's own website -- hyper-linked to the Sun's secured database, and featured, as well, as a discussion topic on its own online bulletin board.

The Magazine, which publishes monthly, has 20,000 paid subscribers, as well as national retail sales of upwards of 30,000.

According to associate publisher Ed Conroy, the print edition is aimed at youth nine to 14, while the online edition, which averages 40,000 unique postings per month, appeals to somewhat older youth between the ages of 13 and 17.

"We tend to go for the un-common denominator," said Conroy. "And the un-common denominator tends to be the smarter kids."

One poster on The Magazine's board, found at, wrote the following: "I've carried a knife a few times, but only when I'm at my friend's place and we go out. He asked if I had a knife on me, and I said no. So he gave me one of his and said, 'Take it just in case.'

"A buddy of mine, again in the downtown (Toronto area) was actually stabbed in the chest at a party by a 16-year-old kid, and he died the same night," the poster continued. "So this is something that has affected me. The stats (from the survey) will be interesting for sure."

The survey, which went live last Sunday and launched via this column, was never meant to be scientific, nor was it meant to attract comments from readers who objected to the fact that there was no place in the survey where possession of a knife as a "tool" could be registered as the reason for carrying one.

Judging from those critical e-mails, the age of the readers who took offence to the lack of a "tool" category was largely 35-plus -- which was hardly the target audience of the survey, and would have been obvious if the majority who complained had read the not-so-fine print.

But there were some surprises from the parents' corner.

The following e-mail, in fact, comes from the wife of a man who, because of his occupation, should know the perils of knife possession, but still bought a knife as a present for his son.

"This issue caused a lot of Christmas grief at my home simply because I do not feel that any teen, and more often tweens, should carry or possess a knife, for any reason," the woman wrote.

"But, my partner, who is not a foolish man, and a paramedic who has seen his share of victims of crime, decided over Christmas to purchase his 12-year-old son a knife -- not your typical Swiss Army pocket knife, but a large, serrated, switchblade, meant for God knows what.

"Naturally, when I saw this going into the Christmas stocking, I lost my mind, and assumed he had lost his as well. But, as the battle raged on, he explained that his son had been 'bugging him for a knife ... everyone has one,' as justification for the purchase.

"Eventually, I grew weary of the battle, and the knife was stuffed in the Christmas stocking like it was no more dangerous than a candy cane. Unfortunately, this is the world we now live in.

"Am I appalled? Yes. Disgusted? Yes," she continued. "And sitting holding my breath every day waiting for the bad news that something has happened with his new 'play thing.'

"So is this a trend? Apparently so."

What prompted the survey, of course, was the New Year's Day stabbing death of 14-year-old Stefanie Rengel, the daughter of two Toronto cops, and the subsequent arrest of two teenagers who stand charged with her first-degree murder -- one a now 16-year-old girl and the other a now 18-year-old "boy," both their identities protected by the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

Staff-Insp. Brian Raybould, head of the city's homicide squad, indicated that the increase in shooting deaths in Toronto is still his squad's primary concern, with two innocent bystanders having already been shot to death this year, the most recent on Thursday in the Chinatown East area of Gerrard and Broadview.

Still, the use of knives among the young also has him troubled.

"We investigate murders," he said. "I do not like to isolate murders as in a 'shooting murder,' or a 'stabbing murder' or a 'beating murder' because we want to solve them all, and no murder is more or less important than another.

"But kids taking knives to school, walking the streets, and going to the mall while carrying a knife ... well, that's a huge problem," he said.

As written here last Sunday, Leeds-Grenville MP Gord Brown's private member's bill -- C-393 -- will receive second reading in the spring if Prime Minister Stephen Harper's minority government is able to remain aloft. If passed, the legislation will see the introduction of mandatory minimum sentences -- possibly up to eight years imprisonment -- for the use of a knife during the commission of defined crimes and circumstances.

What prompted Brown to table the bill was the December 1998 knife murder of the promising son of two constituents, Paulette and Rod Moffitt of Brockville, whose 23-year-old son, Andy, was stabbed through the heart in an Ottawa bar on the eve of Christmas Eve while playing Good Samaritan in a fracas not of his doing.

According to the Sun's survey, however, approximately half the respondents under the age of 23 who claim to pack a knife also claim to know the legal consequences of knife possession under certain circumstances and care, as well, about the consequences.

Yet they carry one, nonetheless.

In the section of the Criminal Code dealing with concealed weapons, it states that any person committing an offence with that weapon, and who is later found guilty of an indictable offence, is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years.

While there is no way to confirm the veracity of any response, when asked if they had ever needed medical attention because of a knife attack, a full one-tenth responded yes but, out of those incidents, they also indicated police only became involved in less than half of those altercations.

Bottom line. As unscientific and as skewed as the survey might be, the numbers of responses to this "pop poll" would tend to negate its out-and-out dismissal.

Forewarned is forearmed.

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