Acts of vandalism disturbing in what they say about perpetrators

       Idle hands are the devil’s tools  (18th century proverb)

There’s no shortage of theories why teenagers would enter a petting zoo in Westsyde and bludgeon two caged birds to death.


One theory is suggested by the above proverb – – a struggle between good and evil.  In this theory, work is seen a virtue.  The devil’s influence is exorcised from our thoughts by work.  Idle citizens with time on their hands are open to temptation and will likely do no good.

Then there are psychological implications.  The senseless killing of tame animals is disturbing.   “The perpetrator of this crime may well be more than just a bored kid with a penchant for shock.  Perhaps he is he next Clifford Olsen,” says Greg Dueck in his letter to the Daily News (May 7, 2003).   Psychologists warn that disturbed people may start off with torture of animals and then move on to killing people.

UCC Criminologist Linda Deutschman agrees that cruel acts could be the act of highly disturbed persons. “By highly disturbed person, I do not mean ‘mentally ill.’  The kind of person who kills birds and sometimes goes on to kill humans is very rarely someone who is out of touch with reality,” she told me.

“These people, like Clifford Olsen, are psychopaths, but not psychotic. Mentally ill people are actually less likely to commit violent offences than the rest of us. They scare us mainly because they are unpredictable, not because they are predictably hurtful,” says Associate Professor Deutschman.

Beyond the sacrificed lives of animals, there is the wasted lives of the perpetrators.  The senseless death of birds is one thing but what about the senseless lives of those who did it?   The devil’s work is sometimes labour intensive.

Take the recent case in which 30 grave-markers of war veterans were knocked over  by vandals.  The overturning of headstones amounts to a significant amount of labour.  “They really had to work at it.  They have a solid concrete footing,” said Chris Pyett, who lives near the cemetery.  “There’s one busted right in half,” he added.  That’s just part of a vandal’s work.

After a evening of tipping over bus stop benches,  destroying public toilets, smashing concrete picnic tables with sledge hammers, is there a sense of satisfaction?  Can the vandals come home after a hard day’s night and relax in their favourite easy chair with a beer and reflect on a job well done?

If the vandals put the same amount of effort into a job, they could earn a living.  If someone would hire them, that is.  In all likelihood, such vandals probably can’t find work. Worse still, the longer that they are out of work the less likely that they will find work.

The Corrections Service of Canada has identified this group in society with diminished opportunities as the “baby bust.”

“Studies indicate the emergence of an unemployed (and under-employed) group of youths, who are in neither school or the labour force. This under-employed and under-educated group is not only large, it seems likely to increase unless action is taken,” says Correction Canada in an article called Unemployment and Population Aging: Contradictory Trends Affecting Penitentiary Populations.

These baby busters sit at home waiting for their parents’ generation to retire from well-paying jobs.   This group of youths slowly ages as they watch diminished opportunities in an economy that has been stagnating since the 1970s.

The problem in B.C. has been compounded by the loss of high paying jobs in the resource extraction sector – – forestry and mining – – and the highest unemployment this side of the Atlantic provinces.

Now in their thirties, many of this so-called Generation X are losing their job-finding skills.  In a difficult labour market like B.C., they may lack the basic “social capital” required to achieve success and attachment to the work force.

Legitimate jobs and crime are inversely proportional.  Vandals are more likely to permanently unemployed youths. They tend to have below-average education, irregular job experience.

“Young males with steady jobs are typically believed to be at much lower risk of criminal behaviour and incarceration,” says CSC.

The death of animals and destruction of property is one thing but what about the pointless and non-productive lives of the vandals?  They sit idle with more time on their hands than money.  Maybe this is where the devil comes in.


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