Jim Taylor's Columns - 'Soft Edges' and 'Sharp Edges'

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Published on Saturday, July 24, 2021

Retribution, rehabilitation, prevention

Sunday July 25, 2021


 “A teenage girl who stabbed a boy to death in downtown Kelowna was sentenced to one day in custody after pleading guilty to manslaughter.”

            That was the first sentence of a story in Wednesday’s paper.

            It took me aback.

            One day? Especially when that one day was the day she appeared in court?

            Part of me says that murder, even an unpremeditated murder like this one, deserves punishment. No one should get off with a verbal reprimand.

            That is, of course, the principle behind what’s called retributive justice. Make ‘em suffer for that they did.

            In former centuries, the justice system worked hard to devise the most excruciating forms of punishment possible as a deterrent to crime. Don’t use the phrase “hung, drawn, and quartered” lightly. It literally meant being strung up by your neck. Just before you strangled, you were cut down, sliced open, and had your intestines pulled out. Then you were ripped apart by a horse harnessed to each limb.

            For even more graphic details about our inhumanity to other humans, read Steven Pinker’s book, The Better Angels of our Nature.

            Retribution has proved that it doesn’t work. Even when pickpocketing itself was a crime punishable by hanging, thieves gleefully picked the pockets of crowds gathered to witness public hangings,



            The desire for retribution brings out the worse side in me. I prefer rehabilitation.

            And that was clearly behind Judge Gregory Koturbash’s verdict. “This has been the most challenging decision I have ever had to make as a judge,” he wrote.

            “We have already lost one young person, and we, meaning all of us, need to do what we can not to lose another.”

            As I write this, I have not seen any response by the victim’s family to Judge Koturbash’s ruling.

            The teenage girl who did the killing didn’t get off free. Koturbash sentenced her to a 24-month Intensive Rehabilitation and Custody Order. If she breaches any conditions of that order, she will serve the rest of her sentence in jail.

            The girl had apparently had “a troubled life,” reporter Ron Seymour wrote, “marred by violence and substance abuse.” She had been sexually abused as early as four years old by her father, who was also a heavy drug user. In June 2019, when she did the stabbing, she was homeless, living on the streets, selling her body in prostitution to pay for drugs and alcohol -- two 26-ounce bottles of hard liquor a day, according to Seymour.

            And she had been diagnosed with eight – eight! -- mental-health issues.

            Which leads me to ask, how did things get this bad?



            As I’ve said, I prefer rehabilitation to retribution. But I prefer prevention to either option.

            I realize that I have had next to no contact with the world of drugs and homelessness. A young man’s death a couple of months ago made this unknown world a little more personal. Although I barely knew him, his death from a drug overdose gave me some reason to care about the world he lived in.

            I checked some statistics. On the day he died, B.C. had had 1594 COVID deaths over the previous 12 months.

            But during the previous year (the last year for which full figures were available) B.C. had 1,723 deaths from drug overdoses.

            Let me state that again, in case you missed it – at the height of the pandemic., more people in this province were dying from drug addiction than from the coronavirus.

            Throw in the effects of alcohol addiction and homelessness, and the imbalance shoots right off-scale.

            How does it happen that in just nine months we can produce a vaccine – indeed, a dozen vaccines worldwide – to protect us from a previously unknown disease, but we can’t come up with any kind of cure for drug and alcohol addiction?

            How can we send $17 million as an installment on F-35 fighter planes that we haven’t even decided to buy yet, but that could have a potential total cost of $77 billion, so that we’ll be able to kill people more efficiently, while we can’t find the funding to head off a single killing by a deranged teen?

            Don’t we care?

            Or do we just think it doesn’t affect us?

            I refuse to accept that there are whole groups of people who are, in religious terms, “beyond redemption” – so hardened by life outside the conventional norms that there is no hope for them.

            On that, apparently, Judge Koturbash and I agree.


Copyright © 2021 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.

            To send comments, to subscribe, or to unsubscribe, write jimt@quixotic.ca



Your turn


Last week’s column, in which I tried to write as a coronavirus might, got (almost) universal approval.

            Cliff Boldt wrote, “Well done, Sir Virus. In an interesting read, you hit all the high points about COVID. As a fully vaxxed person, I read this with much approval and recognition of where our Earth is headed.”

            Tom Watson: “Very imaginative, Jim. Great stuff.”

            Phyllis G: “Terrific! Thank you!”

            And Clare Neufeld: “It used to be said to me that if one wanted to communicate something, one must speak/write in a way which is accessible to the largest possible number of listeners/readers. You have done it well, my friend!”


A few writers expanded their thoughts a little.


Ellen Feldman Lohman, writing from Ambler, PA: “Your essay is both brilliant and bone-chilling. This entire COVID scenario would be a bestselling horror book, if we were not living it in real time. What is most scary is the number of people in the world whose beliefs have kept this virus growing and strong.


Bob Rollwagen: “Jim, you nailed it. Invite all the anti-mask and anti-vaccination people to a party. Vaccines banned. Do it every week. Benefits for all. The anti- group gets to see their peers; it

 keeps vaccinated and those who can’t be vaccinated safer; and if the studies are right, we eventually eliminate the virus. There might be a short-term crisis in hospital emergency wards but a major saving in research cost and long-term increase in the [genera;] intelligence of our society.”


Michael Jensen: “I love your personification of the coronavirus. Right on! My wife and I made sure we received our two shots as soon as possible. The anti-vaxxers are a sadly misguided bunch who want others to buy into their deception.”


But there were some who disagreed, in whole or in part.


Sandy Hayes wondered “What would have occurred if the corona virus had been ‘allowed’ to run its course, rather than ‘have to’ mutate to get around our vaccinations-or would it have mutated anyway?

            I have never been an antivaxxer -- those who do not choose to get this particular vaccine are antivaxxers for other diseases too. Covid has over a 98% recovery rate. Despite being 75 years old -- one of the more threatened group -- I did not want to get it and wanted to let my immune system battle it; if I died, well, no one can stay here forever. However, due to pressure from friends and family, I ‘caved’.

            The other diseases you mentioned do NOT have a recovery rate of 98% and I would recommend all people to be vaccinated, but for COVID, no, The money and attention placed on this could have been better spent on affordable rental homes, mental health facilities, counselling to those who cannot afford to pay for it, more drug and alcohol facilities. Until people have a safe environment they can call ‘home’, nothing else really matters. They will not seek treatment of any sort; they have lost hope.”

            JT: Sandy seems to have anticipated today’s Sharp Edges column.


Steve Roney: “You are wrong to identify the anti-vaccination position with the right or the Republicans. It was Trump who got the vaccines, with Operation Warp Speed.

            “It is the masking and the lockdowns on which there has been a distinct ideological divide, with the right more resistant -- the difference being that these are significant intrusions on people’s lives and livelihoods.”


Finally, Paul Schmidt said, “Sarcasm has its place. I share most of your sentiments, but I wonder what value such writing has. Who is your reading target? Those who agree with you? You are not going to convince anyone who is anti-vax with such writing.”


As I noted in this week’s Soft Edges column, I expect to be away from wi-fi (forest fires permitting) for up to two weeks. If you don’t receive any columns for that time, that’s why. But they should be posted on my webpage, https:// quixotic.ca, anyway. 






If you want to comment on something, write me at jimt@quixotic.ca. Or just hit the ‘Reply’ button.

            To subscribe or unsubscribe, send me an e-mail message at the address above. Or subscribe electronically by sending a blank e-mail (no message) to sharpedges-subscribe@lists.quixotic.ca. Similarly, you can un-subscribe at sharpedges-unsubscribe@lists.quixotic.ca.

            You can now access current columns and seven years of archives at http://quixotic.ca

            I write a second column each Wednesday, called Soft Edges, which deals somewhat more gently with issues of life and faith. To sign up for Soft Edges, write to me directly at the address above, or send a blank e-mail to softedges-subscribe@lists.quixotic.ca

            And for those of you who like poetry, you might check my webpage https://quixotic.ca/My-Poetry. If you’d like to receive notifications about new poems, write me at jimt@quixotic.ca, or subscribe yourself to the list by sending a blank email (no message) to poetry-subscribe@lists.quixotic.ca(If it doesn’t work, please let me know.)






To use the links in this section, you’ll have to insert the necessary symbols. (This is to circumvent filters that think some of these links are spam.)

            Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” is an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca. He set up my webpage, and he doesn’t charge enough.

            I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom. She also runs beautiful pictures. Her Thanksgiving presentation on the old hymn, For the Beauty of the Earth, Is, well, beautiful -- https://www.traditionaliconoclast.com/2019/10/13/for/

            Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom (NB that’s “watso” not “watson”)



            The late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures now have an archive (don’t ask how this happened) on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. Feel free to browse all 550 columns



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