12 THE ADVOCATE
VOL. 79 PART 1 JANUARY 2021
trator. Again, no reassurance should be derived from the “no risk to the public”
characterization in these circumstances. To the contrary, the occurrence
of such crimes reminds society at large of the work that still needs to
be done to create a more secure environment for so many of our fellow citizens,
and the arguable failures in (or lack of) efforts to date to make those
Even apart from demagnetizing our moral compass, any complacency
stemming from messages such as that there is “no risk to the public” may
ultimately reduce the quality of our law enforcement and judicial systems.
If we hear “no risk to the public” and treat this as permission to shift our
attention to other news, we lose interest in whether the police identify and
apprehend a suspect, in whether the person arrested is successfully prosecuted
and in what sentence the involved court determines to be appropriate.
If the public and the media are no longer watching, there are fewer people
who could help to hold (1) the police to account if crimes are not solved
or if those crimes are solved on the basis of a flawed process and tainted evidence
that is later ruled inadmissible; (2) the Crown to account if a prosecution
goes poorly; or (3) the courts to account if sentences that are
arguably either too light or too harsh are imposed. Without scrutiny, there
is a risk that the efficacy of institutions will decline.
This takes us back to the physical threat with which we started. Institutional
decline may contribute to conditions in which more violence occurs,
because (1) perpetrators rightly sense that their apprehension and conviction
are not priorities for the public, law enforcement or the justice system;
and (2) the quality and perhaps quantity of resources deployed tend to wane.
As noted at the outset, reassuring words about there being no public
threat may well be uttered with the best of intentions. It may be that the
police and the media reporting on these situations wish, understandably, to
avoid leaving people with the stress of believing a sniper targeting pedestrians
may be behind the next corner. They may wish to ensure that if they
ever had to announce an imminent terrorist attack, the audience would recognize
the situation as remarkable and pay attention rather than being so
used to stress that one further threat makes no difference. However, an otherwise
anesthetized audience helps neither itself nor the situation at large.
Next time you hear the words “no risk to the public”, “targeted shooting”
or “known to police”, we suggest that you not accept them at face value; that
you consider the physical, moral and institutional risks actually associated
with the event that has occurred; and that you ponder how best to ensure
such an event never happens again.