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Pique'n'yer interest

Death or taxes

Hubert Humphrey once said “the moral test of a government is how it treats those who are at the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life; the aged; and those who are in the shadow of life, the sick and the needy, and the handicapped.”

It’s a pretty good quote to describe how society failed the 26 women that Robert Pickton is accused of murdering, and the two Fraser Valley women that Davey Mato Butorac was accused of murdering just last week. Same goes for all the prostitutes, drug addicts, homeless, and hopeless that have been killed or died of unnatural causes in every city across Canada.

Our current policy — ignoring our most vulnerable citizens, prosecuting them for their addictions and the laws they break out of desperation, and blaming them for their plight — clearly isn’t working. It isn’t even saving us tax dollars, which is the main reason social programs are so poorly under funded these days. It’s been proven countless times and in countless ways that the cost of doing nothing always costs us more in the long run.

Take the Pickton case. According to recent articles, the investigation cost roughly $70 million, while the first trial that successfully charged Pickton with six murders cost another $46 million. If a defence appeal of the original convictions is successful the Crown will retry Pickton for all 26 murders, essentially throwing the first convictions out and bringing the total cost of the case to more than $130 million. That doesn’t cover the appeal, or the cost of jailing Pickton for the rest of his life.

Now imagine if we spent that $130 million on the women that were murdered. Not that we should ever put a dollar value on human lives, but that works out to about $5 million per victim.

Consider that none of Pickton’s victims willingly chose prostitution, but were reduced to it by their addictions, and in many cases by the people who kept them addicted.

What if we put some of that money into social housing, so they would have a place to sleep at night, and programs to protect streetwalkers from brutal pimps? What if we put some money into addiction recovery programs to get them healthy, and then spent a little more to help them become educated and find jobs? What if we had social workers that knew their names and addresses, their addictions, and the people they associated with — would all those years have still gone by before anyone even noticed they were missing? Maybe Pickton would have been caught long before he became Canada’s worst serial killer.

And what if we took the next logical step and decriminalized prostitution, regulated (and taxed) the industry, and registered sex workers instead of arresting everyone involved and driving prostitutes into the back alleyways where they are easy prey for assault, rape, theft and murder? What if prostitutes trusted the police and told them about the suspicious, violent or otherwise creepy men that cruise the streets of Vancouver, Toronto, and every other city in Canada?

It’s not only women that could benefit from a more compassionate, less self-righteous society. Equally desperate males in Vancouver are the ones that break car windows to steal sunglasses, rob homes and businesses, or get into fights with motorists who don’t want their windows squeegee’d. What does that neglect cost us, in personal property theft, in rising insurance premiums, in hospital bills, and in legal costs when they’re arrested and incarcerated, and then put back on the streets?

People do have to take some responsibility for their actions, and for becoming addicted to harmful drugs and for breaking the law, but if they haven’t harmed anybody other than themselves then they deserve a little compassion and a second, third, fourth chance to make something of themselves. Short of locking people away for the rest of their lives, there has to be a serious opportunity for rehabilitation.

One study of the homeless in Vancouver found that provincial taxpayers pay about $40,000 per year for every homeless individual once you factor in police calls, hospital visits, shelters and other programs. Obviously you can’t just give every person that money instead of funneling it through the social safety net — otherwise there would be no incentive to work, and the only people to benefit would be the drug dealers. But we can help by building more affordable housing, assigning more social workers to the streets, making the homeless aware of the drug and employment skills programs that are already available, and bumping up welfare enough to cover the basic costs of living. For the people that are too sick or mentally disturbed to be rehabilitated, and are beyond help, there should be a permanent facility that provides an alternative to the slow death of the streets.

We’d all like to believe we start out with the same chances in life, but it’s a fact that some people have harder upbringings, or develop mental disorders they can’t control. Some people get in with the wrong crowd, fall in love with the wrong people, or naively find themselves hooked on harmful drugs. Some people are just more prone to becoming addicted to the things that will one day destroy them.

As we prepare to possibly try Pickton a second time, we’re going to hear a lot about the lives of his victims and the various circumstances that drove them to a life on the streets. Take a second to consider that the cost of compassion all those years ago would have been far less than the cost of justice today.