Friday, August 5, 2011

Fall from paradise - Murder on Gabriola

Small towns are safe. Big cities are not. That's the myth.

Like many small communities in the Gulf Islands off the British Columbia coast, Gabriola Island is draped in lush rain-forests and magnificent beach scenery. It has miles of walking trails and hiking paths. Gabriola's 4,000 residents have the lowest crime rates anywhere. Until now.

With most myths, facts intrude. This week one shattered Gabriola's calm.

A knife attack left a mother dead and her son in hospital. Residents were ordered indoors and to stay off the trails. Today police apprehend a suspect hiding in some bushes near the scene of the crime.

This is Gabriola's second murder in 6 years. Two murders, of course, does not a trend make. Low numbers tell volumes about low crime risks.

Still, small towns do not necessarily produce low crime. Counting the current murder, Gabriola's murder rate is 25 per 100,000 (16 times higher than the rest of the country). What can be done?

I've blogged before about the catch-and-release courts in British Columbia. After sentencing, the murderer in Gabriola's last homicide served 2 years in prison (he beat his roommate to death with a hatchet).

Courts are clearly not in the safety or prevention business.

Walking outdoors next week may seem different on Gabriola. More frightening than last week. Lockdowns and wandering killers can have that effect.

True, these murders were indoors. Yet fear is insidious and civic places need a public space. How can small towns project confidence onto public spaces like paths and parks? Can we design out this problem? Do we really want cameras on hiking paths?

Is this the price we must pay for vigilance?