With Thompson in the midst of a flurry of more knife violence than usual in the past few weeks – three stabbings in the space of three hours May 31 and two more about an hour apart June 5 and June 6, along with a couple of incidents of people being chased by youths armed with machetes – people are understandably desperate for solutions to cut down on violent crime.
On local Facebook discussion group Thompson Talk, many people have touted a youth curfew as a way to combat these violent incidents. Thompson briefly had a youth curfew back in the middle of the first decade of this century before a court challenge was launched and the city decided to repeal its curfew bylaw voluntarily rather than fight a costly legal battle that they obviously thought they would lose.
The reason they thought that way is not hard to see. A youth curfew is, by its very nature, discriminatory. Just replace the word youth with another group signifier and it should become clear if it isn’t already. Would we think it was all right to impose a seniors’ curfew? A women’s curfew, or a men’s? A curfew restricting the hours that Indigenous people or Chinese people could be out on the streets? One that instructed Christians to stay inside between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.? Discrimination itself isn’t necessarily illegal or unconstitutional under certain circumstances, but most legal scholars would probably figure that sweeping measures such as a curfew would not stand up to being challenged in court, unless perhaps you could say, for example, that most crimes being committed during that time were committed by youth. Even if that is true, it doesn’t necessarily give governments the right to arbitrarily control the movements of a particular group of people because they share one characteristic with a subset of the population associated with high levels of crime. If they did, they could probably just impose a curfew on men, who break the law collectively far more often than women.
Putting aside the fundamental unfairness of a youth curfew, the second question is: do you really think it would work? When it comes to the most serious of crimes, like the stabbings Thompson has been the site of recently, the answer is probably no. Imagine that you are a 16-year-old who decides, for whatever reason, that you will take a large knife outside with you, find some unsuspecting pedestrian and use that knife to rob him or her, or maybe even just jab it into their side for fun. Then imagine, unlikely as it may be, that you are also a keen follower of municipal politics and find out that a youth curfew has been passed. Will that be enough to keep you inside after 10 p.m., given that the punishment for disobeying the curfew is undoubtedly going to be lighter than the punishment for using a weapon to rob and then assault someone? You know how people against gun control say that it only works on people who already obey laws? Curfews are like that too.
What’s more, if there were a youth curfew, Thompson RCMP would probably receive even more than the record number of calls for one day that they did recently, many of which would probably just be for teenagers who were late making their home and not actually roaming around intending to destroy property or commit acts of violence. If there were enough police to get to every call they received within minutes, a curfew would likely not be on people’s minds. There aren’t, so if there were a curfew, police would have to decide which calls to respond to the same way they do now, with more serious incidents getting priority and others, like a hypothetical teen out past curfew, would be pushed down the list at busy times to the point that the curfew bylaw would be about as meaningful as a jaywalking bylaw.
It’s not that nothing can be done to reduce crime. It’s just that the answers won’t likely be simple and will probably require the involvement of multiple organizations and the results won’t be immediate. It isn’t a satisfying answer but it’s true. Anyone who tells you different is pandering in the service of motives that aren’t actually about addressing the root causes of crime.