December 2, 2003

Grace Chow is a Canadian mother who is among the growing number in this country plunged into despair in recent years by the escalating problem of youth violence. On October 20, 2001, in Victoria, B.C., she experienced what is surely, every 21st century parent's worst nightmare. On that date her 21-year-old son, Nicholas Johnson, was swarmed and brutally beaten, so badly by violent young offenders, that he has been bedridden and crippled up with multiple injuries including brain damage ever since. She is convinced that the desensitizing effects of media violence on young viewers was partly the cause and has decided to start an organization for the purposes of addressing violence in the media. As a mother myself, my heart goes out to her. Over the years, as chairperson of Canadians Concerned About Violence In Entertainment, I have sat with numerous parents whose children have been the victims of similar brutal attacks, often fatal and usually accompanied by ample evidence that violence in popular culture was a causal factor - at memorial services, conferences on media violence and, so far, on one occasion only, a Standing Committee on Justice in Ottawa. They include Debbie Mahaffy, Gary Rosenfeldt and Pricillia DeVilliers. Unfortunately, apart from greater consideration for victims rights, little has been accomplished thus far. We've had numerous inquiries into crime prevention, including one headed up by Barbara Hall following her appointment by Mel Lastman, outgoing mayor of Toronto, after her first unsuccessful bid for the position, herself.

In recent coverage in THE TORONTO STAR, Chow reasoned that Toronto police Chief Julian Fantino is right when he says that the justice system is a failure when it comes to the violent beatings and killings of innocent victims. However, I'm puzzled as to why he is saying so little these days about the links to media violence. In the past, Fantino has been vocal on violent video games, films, television programs and music lyrics fuelling this widespread social and mental health problem, but more recently, either he has forgotten, or the media have stopped reporting his views in this regard.

Sadly, the same must be said about the policy positions of candidates in recent provincial and municipal elections and federal leadership conventions. Any reference to community safety revolved almost entirely around the issues of either bumping up the number of police patrolling the streets or tougher law and order enforcement measures. My own attempts to focus attention on the need for PREVENTION of violence, as well, at all candidates debates in my home city, with questions posed to both George Smitherman, now Minister of Health for the Province of Ontario and David Miller, now Mayor for the City of Toronto, did little beyond yielding a laudatory stroke or two for my own work in the field over the years.

Clearly, serious attention to this urgent issue is long overdue at all levels of government. Recent rhetoric on a "new deal for cities" at the federal level must include community safety with serious re-examination of current policy positions that fuel the problem of youth violence with tax incentives for the production and distribution of known harmful cultural products.

We must all band together and hold the politicians' feet to the fire, insisting that they implement recommended solutions resulting from decades of research on the subject of media violence. Toxic elements in our cultural environment are every bit as dangerous to us as polluted air and water.

Rose Anne Dyson, Ed.D.
Chairperson, C-CAVE
Author of MIND ABUSE: Media Violence In An Information Age
Co-author of MEDIA, SEX, VIOLENCE and DRUGS in the GLOBAL VILLAGE and Terrorism, Globalization & Mass Communication