April 30, 2004
Back home after a month in Romania, Brian Ford feels like he's recovering from time travel, not culture shock."They're where we were in the 1960s and 1970s," says Ottawa's outspoken former police chief.
In 2007, the European Union will decide whether the ex-Communist country is ready to formally join the family. A giant clock counts down the days in the capital, Bucharest. Romanians are racing against that clock. So Mr. Ford was struck by the news from back home when he'd check the Citizen website for reports on city council's budget debate."We're dismantling and they're building," he says. "Beware of what you cut because, over there, you can see what happens when you just don't have enough social supports. There's nothing to catch you when you fall."
Mr. Ford, who retired after seven years as police chief in 2000, was sent to Romania by Canadian Executive Service the Organization. The non-profit group dispatches unpaid experts to help struggling communities in Canada and across the globe. Mr. Ford went to Salaj. It's an industrial area in northwestern
Romania, a short drive from Hungary and not far from the Carpathian mountains, billed as the "Transylvanian Alps." There he worked with police, bureaucrats, community officials and women's-shelter staff to retool crime-prevention efforts, particularly against drug abuse and domestic violence.
In Salaj, population 200,000, there is one shelter for abused women. Its two beds are funded by a German foundation until the end of this year. No one knows what will happen then. "Family violence is a problem but they have no infrastructure to deal with it." Police respond to domestic violence calls, but they do not take notes when they get to the scene. There is no such thing as a restraining order. If the offending spouse is not detained, the police take him home. He can kick his wife out and there is virtually no social welfare system to support her if she's suddenly homeless. In a report to Romanian police, Mr. Ford recommends better support for victims of crime, more female officers to investigate family violence, breaking the silence on child and spousal abuse, and court orders that limit access by abusers to their victims. Mr. Ford also recommends a wide range of crime-prevention measures that would be familiar here, like neighbourhood watch and community policing. "The police cannot address the root causes of crime if they continue to act in an isolated or autonomous manner."
Ironically, while he was in Romania, city council forced the closing of the Ottawa Centre for Crime Prevention by cutting all its city funding. An optimist by nature, Mr. Ford has a glass-half-full view of his experience. Less than 15 years after the violent end of communism, he found Romanians hopeful and excited about the future. "They were accepted into NATO while I was there. They had a national holiday to celebrate." Governments, businesses and individuals are being mobilized for Romania's rendezvous with Europe. Romanians will be watching tomorrow's addition of 10 mostly ex-Communist countries to the European community with a mixture of envy and anticipation. To follow suit in 2007, the country must improve its human-rights record, boost welfare programs, ensure judicial independence and have a functioning market economy. Britain's authoritative Economist magazine said last week it will be a tall order.
But Mr. Ford says Romanians are impressively undaunted. "They are working very hard, there's a lot of potential there," he says. "They want to raise their standard of living." Mr. Ford -- whose extensive volunteering ranges from social service agencies to coaching minor hockey -- hopes to go on another overseas mission soon. Leaving home made him wonder why some Canadians want to turn back the clock while his new Romanian friends rush to make three decades of progress in three years. Listening to radio commentators argue the case on Monday for two-tier health care in Canada recalled Romania, where people routinely pay their way to the front of the line. "It's just amazing to me that people here would talk about user fees for health care. Man, we are so-o-o lucky."
The directors of the Canadian Justice Review Board come from various walks of life and occupations. We represent a broad range of Canadians who are concerned about the state of the justice system.