Lost in Interpretation on Salt Spring

Bill Murray 1

The following, in blue, is my commentary on Mr. Robinson’s article.

Viewpoint: Dark underbelly showing

 Feb 18, 2020


Over the weekend, while enjoying the facilities at Centennial Park with my grandson, I witnessed a man urinating on a police officer’s car as the peacekeeper was engaging a rough-looking crowd drinking in public. How do I describe my reaction? I leave it to you good citizens to decide. My five-year-old grandson would have the opinion that it was at very least a poor performance. I can draw no conclusion other than it was a symbolic act, an insult to both the constabulary and the community. Another observer remarked to me that our island home will never be the same. I hope not.

The above is an entirely reasonable observation and commentary.

I have always believed that how we treat the least fortunate members of our community is a direct reflection of who we are. I am very happy to see my tax dollars support those in need.

I completely agree…those who are the “least fortunate” and are actually in need should be supported. 

I am, however, becoming increasingly concerned over the challenge of determining who are the worthy candidates versus those who are opportunists, capable but unmotivated to contribute to the common weal.

Here Mr. Robinson brings up the gist of the article – the concern, expressed by many in the community over the question of the differentiation of who are “in need” and those who “take advantage” of goodwill. An example of why that question has been raised more often on the island over the past couple of years relates to the Food Bank. The Food Bank’s purpose is help those “in need” within the community. Those who are, for example, facing temporary unemployment, or are handicapped, or are single parents struggling. The Food Bank was not created to feed an ever increasing, able-bodied, tourist/transient population. Thus, Mr. Robinson’s use of the words “opportunists, “capable,” “unmotivated” and not “contributing.” to the community.

Mr. Robinson makes it clear he has no problem contributing some of his own money (tax dollars) to help those “in need.”

What he, and many others, have a problem with is what are the factors which should be taken into account when asking the rather practical question – “Why are you deserving of help?”

Is that a reasonable question to ask, given limited resources? Is it a reasonable question to ask of someone able bodied? I believe the answer is yes.

To me this issue is amplified in an island microcosm, where spaces, housing, human and financial resources are literally finite.

I agree…the issue is amplified, and, unfortunately, the amplification is not the result of all of the homeless people. It is the result of a few people who, due to a lack of common respect issues (littering, drinking, obnoxious behavior, fighting, etc.), are placing the majority in a poor light.Every morning I pick up the litter remnants of the night before – liquor bottles, cans, empty cigarette packages, garbage, coffee cups, clothing, dog shit, tissue paper, food trays, etc. strewn about. I’m going to ask every reader – is that the product of reasonable behavior for adults who wish to be respected?

As I have witnessed the “dark underbelly” of the homeless population increase, i.e., those who are preying upon our good will, property and quality of life, I recognize that an equal proportion of those most deserving of our support are more likely to be displaced and tarnished by this metastasizing cancer. What to do?

Let’s take a look at Mr. Robinson’s analogy of a “metastasizing cancer.” Cancer begins when one cell in the body is damaged. Eventually one damaged cell becomes two, and then four and then 8, etc.. Unchecked, the cancer will eventually kill all cells and the body in which all cells reside. As it applies to the issue at hand, Mr. Robinson is stating the number of those who disrespect the community, and its environment, in which they currently reside, are increasing. I agree, and would challenge anyone who says the situation has plateaued, or is lessening.  

Mr. Robinson however defends those who are “most deserving of our support” and, fears that those “in need” are “more likely to be displaced and tarnished” as a result of others’ actions. 

I understand his perspective, because it is decent, common sense.

The homeless question: Is there a solution? The words question and solution have a somewhat sinister ring to them, but cannot be ignored for the sake of propriety. So how do we identify the miscreants from the meritorious in our homeless population?

The term “miscreant” means “a person who behaves badly or in a way that breaks the law.” So, Mr. Robinson is asking how do we identify those are disrespectful, and who behave badly, from those truly “in need.”

I don’t think it’s as difficult as you might imagine, because as I witnessed at Centennial Park, they seem to identify themselves. The problem I observed in that particular example is that there appeared to be no ticketing, detention or arrest of the individuals acting in contravention of the law. I suspect this is a consequence of an ongoing and overwhelming battle of attrition, as police officers tire of endless paperwork and a revolving door at the courthouse.

The incident in question – drinking in public and pissing on a police vehicle – could only be considered a taunt, looking for a reaction. The fact that there wasn’t an immediate reaction indicates tolerance on the part of the peace officers. However, Mr. Robinson begs the question as to whether that actually was an appropriate reaction.

There must be consequences for criminal and antisocial behaviour; those who escape them are otherwise emboldened by their experience, and thus we are on a slippery slope in their absence. Here I will assert that prison, though appropriate for many, is an expensive and counterproductive means of rehabilitation for those who require a hand up by means of correction for their desultory citizenship. Let’s not send them to crime school.

Any reasonable person would agree there should be “consequences for criminal and antisocial behaviour.” Here, however, Mr. Robinson makes it clear he doesn’t believe sending someone to jail is the solution to the issues at hand.

I agree…up to a point. Certain violent offenders do need to be taken off the streets. But, they aren’t representative of even the minority.

Would it be too draconian to suggest repeat offenders be sent to work camps where by their own sweat and toil they may be instilled with a sense of self worth and purpose for their contribution to the common good, as well as the insight that such industry on the “outside” is preferable to the alternative?

This last comment by Mr. Robinson has drawn howls of social media outrage from some, with comparisons to Japanese internment camps, or Gulags, or Nazi concentration camps.

I fear thou doth protest too loudly….

First, Mr. Robinson makes it clear it is the “repeat offenders” who he is referring to. The troublemakers, the disrespecters, the instigators…take your pick. 

He makes it clear that the suggestion of sending the “repeat offenders” to “work camps” is a potential alternative to sending them to prison.

He also makes it clear, that his hope is that by the “repeat offenders” actually having to work for food and shelter, as opposed to having it handed to them on a platter may actually “instill” them with a “sense of self worth and purpose for their contribution to the common good, as well as the insight that the alternative IS prison.”

So, what he is really asking the “repeat offenders” is – which would you prefer?

I don’t see that as an unreasonable offer.  

When I read an article I try and understand what someone is saying because, as is the case here, content can be lost in interpretation. 


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