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Torrance, Judy M.

Kingston, McGill-Queen's University Press, c1986, 270pp, paper, $32.50, ISBN 0-7735-0590-3. CIP

Grades 12 and up
Reviewed by Joan Kerrigan

Volume 14 Number 6
1986 November

Canadians have long prided themselves on the fact that this is a "peaceable kingdom." In a well-researched study, Judy M. Torrance provides evidence that such is not always the case. Torrance starts with the overall concept of violence, and distinguishes between public and private violence. Her research into Canadian public violence and its characteristics leads her to conclude that Canada is not the least violent country among other western democracies. She compares the violence in Canada to that in seventeen other western democracies, and concludes that the five countries that show themselves to be more violent are Belgium, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The seven countries that are consistently less violent are Australia, Denmark, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland. Canada ranks in the middle with Austria, Eire, Finland, Israel, and West Germany. The appendix provides a chronology of public violence in this country, dating from the assassination of D'Arcy McGee in 1868 to Lortie's attack on the National Assembly in Quebec City in 1984.

In the chapter on "Culture and Ideology," Torrance gives reasons for the declining legitimacy of violence. Social and technological changes have facilitated increased control, the role of the state has grown, and there is a strong belief that violence can and should be controlled.

Among the key questions for which she seeks answers are these. Why is the incidence and severity of public violence relatively low in Canada? Why has the Canadian pattern of public violence differed from that of the United States? And how can we account for the times and places of high violence in Canada? Torrance provides a number of answers. Our governments have been much less tolerant of public disorder than is the case in the United States. We do not have a revolutionary tradition and, generally speaking, we are proud of this fact. Our police and military forces seem to have been more subject ot discipline and control by their superiors. Occasionally, violence in Canada will be disguised by such terms as "upholding law and order."

Class enters into the Canadian experience. In early days, criminality was regarded as a lowerclass phenomenon, and the frontier was supposedly lawless because it was settled by people from lower social groups. Sir John A. Macdonald believed that there would no longer be need for police after the frontier was well populated. Many Canadians have been surprised that in the United States the middle class has from time to time been involved in acts of public violence.

Generally speaking, Canadians frown upon violence as a means of settling disputes, and this distaste provides extra risks for Canadian protest groups. Nonetheless, there are occasions when public violence does break out, and Torrance has documented these very thoroughly. She also points out that we should not have a "sense of ineffable moral superiority" because we have "benefitted from a unique and non-exportable combination of societal, economic, and historical circumstances."

Public Violence in Canada contains some extremely interesting and perceptive information. It is an excellent resource book for senior secondary school students in sociology courses and even more useful for students in post-secondary institutions because of the scholarly treatment of the subject matter.

Joan Kerrigan, Toronto Board of Education, Toronto, Ont.
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