Saturday, June 23, 2007

Violent dimensions of marital breakdown

The London Free Press
By Rory Leishman

The shocking death by murder suicide of two London police officers earlier this month has underlined once again that no Canadians are immune to the potentially violent consequences of a breakdown in marital relations. However, the extent of spousal homicide in Canada should not be exaggerated. The fact is that such tragic and deplorable crimes are rare, and getting rarer.

In a study published last year by Statistics Canada, Melanie Kowalskir eported that there were only 74 spousal homicides in all of Canada during 2004. Moreover, the rate of spousal homicides in 2004 was just 4.3 per one million spouses, down 16 per cent from 2000.

While most of the perpetratorswere male, fully 20 per cent were female. Common law spouses are especially at risk. According to Statistics Canada, they comprised just 13 per cent of spousal relationships, yet accounted forno less than 40 per cent of all spousal homicides between 1994 and 2004.

Of course, spousal homicide is only a small, albeit extreme, part of the overall issue of spousal violence. To get an accurate understanding of the full extent of the problem, Statistics Canada conducted a massive General Social Survey (GSS) on Victimization in 1999. This study, the most definitive ever conducted on family violence in Canada, was based on arandom sample of approximately 24,000 Canadian men and women aged 15 and over.

The results were startling. Although government and the mass media concentrated then, as they continue to do now, almost exclusively on spousal violence against women, Statistics Canada found in this study that men are hardly less likely than women to be victims of spousal violence. Specifically, Statistics Canada reports: “Results from the 1999 GSS found that eight per cent of women and seven per cent of men who were married or living common-law experienced some type of spousal violence in the past five years.” A follow-up survey in 2004 produced similar results, although the number of victims had marginally declined by about 47,000 among women and 4,000 among men.

The GSS surveys have also found that men and women vary in the kind of spousal violence they experience. For example, far more men than women say they have been kicked, bitten, hit or slapped by a spouse, whereas far more women than men say they have been beaten, choked or sexually assaulted in a spousal attack.

Women are also more likely than men to use a weapon in a spousal fight. However, given the superior physical strength of men, it’s not surprising that women usually come out the worse in spousal brawls. The 2004 GSS survey found that 13 per cent of the female victims of spousal abuse, compared to only two per cent of the men, said they had sought medical attention for aninjury inflicted in a violent altercation with their spouse.

This same survey also indicated that spousal violence is more than “twice as common among homosexual couples compared with heterosexual couples.” Studies in other countries have come to similar conclusions. In 2003, the British Journal of Psychiatry reported that a representative, cross-sectional survey of men and women in England and Wales had found that “38 per cent of the gay men and 31 per cent of the lesbians admitted having been physically attacked during the preceding five years.”

Altogether, the data from Canada and elsewhere indicate that people living in common law marriages and same-sex unions are far more likely than legally married couples to become embroiled in spousal violence. Why is that?

A large part of the explanation is that common law relationships and same sex unions are much more prone to breakdown than are legally married unions.It is during the period when an intimate sexual relationship is breakingapart that tensions between the couples tend to escalate and the risks of spousal violence become the most acute.

Here, then, is one among many good reasons for Canadians to avoid informal sexual liaisons outside of marriage: There is overwhelming statistical evidence to prove that legally married husbands and wives who fulfil their wedding vows to love and cherish each other in a sexually exclusive relationship are exceedingly unlikely to experience spousal homicide or any other form of domestic violence.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

A user-pay solution to traffic congestion

The London Free Press
By Rory Leishman

Over the past 40 years, London, like every other city in Canada, has been on a road-building spree: Virtually every major artery has been significantlyexpanded, yet the traffic congestion is worse than ever. What can be done?

It’s evident that simply building and expanding ever more roads and streets in growing cities like London will not solve the problem. Experience from around the world suggests that no amount of road construction can keep pace with the rapidly increasing numbers of cars in countries that are blessed with sustained economic growth.

Some environmentalists contend that a hefty increase in gasoline taxes would eliminate traffic congestion, although there is no evidence to support this contention. Throughout Western Europe, many cities are plagued with massive traffic jams, despite modern roads and gasoline taxes that are more than two and three times higher than in Canada.

Many cities in Europe and North America have found that a combination of reduced fares and better service for mass transit can persuade some commuters to abandon their cars, but not nearly enough to end traffic jams. It’s a safe bet that even if mass transit were free, a large proportion of urban commuters would still prefer to travel directly to their homes,workplaces and other destinations by automobile despite the inconvenience of traffic jams.

Commuters are all the more likely to travel by automobile, when it’s not they, themselves, but the entire community that has to pay much of the costs for traffic congestion in the form of higher greenhouse gas emissions as well as expensive delays in moving people and merchandise. Moreover, these costs are not at all trivial. Transport Canada recently estimated that traffic delays cost nine large urban areas more than $3 billion annually.

What, then, can be done? Robert Lindsey, a professor of economics at the University of Alberta, commends the solution advanced by Ken Livingston, the socialist mayor of London, England, who is popularly known as “Red Ken.” In an illuminating commentary for the C. D. Howe Institute entitled “Congestion Relief: Assessing the Case for Road Tolls in Canada,” Lindsey points out that Livingston first invested in additional transit buses during his inaugural term in office and then, in February, 2003, levied a new system of road tolls called the London Congestion Charge on motorists driving into a 21-square kilometer area in the centre of the city between 7:00 am and 6:30 pm on weekdays.

Vehicles entering this core area are identified by cameras like those used on Toronto’s 407 toll road that automatically photographs the licence plates of passing vehicles. This efficient system is a considerable money maker. Under terms of the Greater London Authority Act, all of the revenues generated by the London Congestion Charge must be used to improve the city’s network of roads, streets and facilities for mass transit.

So far, Livingstone’s initiative has proven to be hugely successful. Both traffic congestion and automobile pollution have been considerably reduced. And virtually all in the city have benefited: Everyone who still drives into the heart of the city encounters fewer traffic jams, while all others enjoy the advantages of improved mass transit, including faster bus service on congestion-free roads and streets.

Of course, a system that works for a vast metropolis like London, England, might not be suitable for many smaller cities. However, Lindsey points out in his commentary that over the past 20 years, the Norwegian cities of Bergen and Trondheim – both less than half the size of London, Ontario –have also come up with systems for charging motorists entering into their downtown areas that have been successful in reducing congestion, cutting pollution and raising considerable revenues for improving urban transportation and financing environmental projects.

Lindsey makes a compelling case in his commentary for having Canada’s largest cities -- Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver – experiment with roadtolls. Politicians and city engineers in smaller cities like London, Ontario, should also give serious consideration to this idea.

Make the polluter pay is a sound principle. And there is no better way to make car drivers pay for their pollution than through a system of road tolls that are well calculated to cut greenhouse gas emissions and ease traffic congestion.

Friday, June 01, 2007

A significant pro-life judicial victory

The Interim
By Rory Leishman
In a landmark, five-to-four ruling in Gonzalez v. Carhart on April 18, the United States Supreme Court upheld the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act which the Congress enacted and President George W. Bush signed into law in 2003.
In reasons for the majority in Carhart, Mr. Justice Anthony Kennedy described partial-birth abortion (also known as intact dilation and evacuation) as a procedure in which an abortion doctor typically delivers all but the head of a living baby from the womb, before piercing or crushing the baby’s skull so the head can pass through the cervix.
Kennedy agreed with the finding of the United States Congress that: “Implicitly approving such a brutal and inhumane procedure by choosing not to prohibit it will further coarsen society to the humanity of not only newborns, but all vulnerable and innocent human life, making it increasingly difficult to protect such life." On this basis, he upheld the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, which makes it is a criminal offence punishable by up to two years imprisonment for an abortion doctor to perform a partial-birth abortion, unless the procedure is “necessary to save the life of a mother whose life is endangered by a physical disorder, physical illness, or physical injury.”
The Parliament of Canada should take note: Thanks to the calamitous judgment of the Supreme Court of Canada in R. v. Morgentaler, 1988, Canada is the only democracy in the world that has no law governing abortion. If a mother decides, for whatever reason, that she no longer wants her pre-born baby, it is lawful in Canada for an unscrupulous abortion doctor to kill that baby at any time during the pregnancy right up to just a few seconds before birth.
Granted, late-term abortions are very rare in Canada. But so is infanticide. It makes no sense for the Criminal Code to condemn the deliberate killing of a newborn infant, while doing nothing to curtail late-term abortions.
Carhart represents a small, but significant, step back from the 1973 ruling of the United States Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade that initiated abortion on demand. In a torturous attempt to justify this decision, the majority of the Court in Roe argued that women have a right to abortion by virtue of the “right to privacy” contained in “penumbras formed by emanations” of the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas have repudiated Roe. In a concurring opinion in Carhart, they reiterated their view “that the Court's abortion jurisprudence, including Roe v. Wade, has no basis in the Constitution.”
In a future case that deals directly with Roe, Chief Justice John Roberts and Mr. Justice Samuel Alito, Jr. -– both recent appointees of President Bush – are likely also to agree that Roe was wrongly decided, because there is nothing in the plain language or the history of Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution that prohibits the legislatures of the states from constricting abortion.
Correspondingly, there is nothing in the plain language or the history of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that authorized the Supreme Court of Canada to strike down Canada’s abortion law. In a dissenting opinion in Morgentaler, Mr. Justice William McIntyre persuasively argued that even in the Charter era, it is “for Parliament to pronounce on, and to direct, social policy.”
McIntyre explained: “This is not because Parliament can claim all wisdom and knowledge but simply because Parliament is elected for that purpose in a free democracy and, in addition, has the facilities -- the exposure to public opinion and information -- as well as the political power to make effective its decisions.”
In Morgentaler, McIntyre exercised judicial restraint: He fulfilled his duty as a judge to uphold the law and the Constitution, while leaving legislating to legislators.
Alas, there is today no judge on the Supreme Court of Canada in the McIntyre mould. None can be counted upon to uphold the separation of legislative and judicial powers.
Our judicial rulers in Canada profess to be enlightened and compassionate, yet none shows any disposition to agree with judgment of the United States Supreme Court on the urgent need to curtail at least the horrors of partial-birth abortion. What a shame and what a pity.