Anti-stalking Proposal Could Be Tricky

Here's another column from the Edmonton Sunday Sun that may be of

               Anti-stalking Proposal Could Be Tricky

  If the new anti-stalking legislation introduced by Justice Minister
Pierre Blais last Tuesday becomes law, our police, prosecutors and lawyers
are going to need a crash course in love.

  They will need to learn when to arrest, charge or convict someone for
sending roses; to differentiate between those sent for their beauty and
those sent for their thorns.

  Without such training, good old-fashioned romance and the gentle art of
wooing could soon be legislated out of existence - along with many

  "In certain cases, receiving a letter or flowers from somebody who has a
known history of violence can be a threatening thing," says Pat Marshall,
co-chair of the Canadian Panel on Violence Against Women.

  Very true. But one needs to distinguish between a love-struck Romeo
trying to win a woman's heart and an obsessed whacko for whom rejection is
a trigger for violence.

  The existing laws against intimidating, harassing and "besetting"
(stalking) have proved rather ineffective against obsessive men who pursue
and, all too often, end up attacking or killing women.

  It usually takes clear threats or acts of violence for the police and
courts to act, and by then, it is too late.

  But we must be careful with this proposed anti-stalking legislation,
which would make it much easier to make arrests, and which would carry a
maximum sentence of five years in prison.

  Stalking would be defined as persistently following someone, spending
extended periods of time watching someone's home or place of work, making
harassing calls to a person and/or their family and friends, contacting a
person's neighbors or co-workers, or contacting, and possibly threatening,
a person's companion or spouse.

  To be guilty, a person would have to intend to harass and intimidate, or
be reckless as to whether their actions cause fear.

  Actual threats of acts of violence would not be necessary.

  Properly used, Blais' proposed legislation would be an effective tool in
combatting violence against women (against men, too, although very few
need such protection from women.)

  Unfortunately, those enforcing the law would have to be understanding
souls and use much common sense - and the law and common sense are not
always on the same wavelength.

  That is doubly dangerous in this case because romance and common sense
often have little in common, either.

  Men and women do funny things when they are in love. There must be
millions of happily married couples about today who would never have got
together if the suitor had not persisted after the initial "no" to a
request for a date. (In my case, it took four attempts before I finally
got a date with the woman who is now my wife.)

  Actions, which to one woman would be romantic, to another could be
intimidating. The same actions could be performed by some innocent sap who
saw the romance angle work for Tom Cruise in the movies, or by a crazed
admirer with malicious intent.

  Common sense would tell us which is which, but will the law?

  In the past, the police and courts have often dismissed dangerous and
obsessed spurned lovers, ex-spouses and secret admirers as romantics who
are merely trying to rekindle or start a romance.

  It is good that the pendulum is finally swinging, but let us take care
that it doesn't swing too far.

  The world will not be a safer or happier place if we hasten the demise
of romance by treating all sufferers of unrequited love as dangerous

Sean Durkan in ottawa