Violence Prevention as a Public Health Issue: National Town Hall Meeting

The significant impact of individual and collective behaviour on interpersonal relationships and well-being, and as a wider socio-cultural issue should not come as a surprise. What has not gained as much attention outside of the professional realm, however, is the impact of violence and self-regulation on health. At the National Town Hall Meeting on Violence Prevention as part of the Canadian Public Health Association Conference and the WHO’s Global Violence Prevention Campaign, the framing of violence prevention as a public health issue was laid clear and punctuated by a number of passionate campaign proponents. Since the 1960s and 70s, violence has been addressed not merely from the criminal justice angle but, most crucially in prevention and intervention, by public health providers and community-based initiatives. The reasons for this broad-based systems approach are simple while the issues themselves are understandably complex.

The primarily Canadian speakers and artists put forth their portion of expertise and experience. A highlight included the candid account of Sheldon Kennedy, of the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre, a leading voice against child abuse. Beyond Shelley Cardinal’s presentation on behalf of the Canadian Red Cross and its RespectED series including community-specific interventions, the critical intersection of different social addresses and identities (e.g., gender, race, class, migration status, etc.) was all but overlooked. Without examining where positions of vulnerability arise from in combination with the abuse of power and how these dynamics are institutionalized and politicized was sorely needed. While some would claim political affairs play no part in the matter, a wide understanding of politics considers the distribution of power, and is then fundamental for a comprehensive portrayal of violence’s impact and its roots in deep-seated values, practices, and inequality. Just as others have pointed out, inequality’s relationship to poverty (e.g., lack of economic, social, or cultural capital), discrimination and its related stereotypes and institutional reproductions, and erosion of social trust combine to propagate future acts of systemic and interpersonal violence. By not speaking directly to these different factors, and how they link-up with one another in a hierarchical, authoritarian, and undemocratic climate, a purely universal approach is bound to miss those most in need.

To end, a few wise words from Gizelle Rhyon-Berry help to encapsulate the essence of these issues. As she relayed to me in summing up her lifelong comparative study of peaceful cultures and societies, “How societies live is constantly shifting and changing, and cultures I was fascinated with for their calm and non-violent ways are almost non-existent. Peaceful societies are really not fully peaceful but we can say they live more harmoniously with each other and their environment and less aggressively. As a matter of fact aggression is abhored and feared – therefor avoided.  The focus on non-violence is the way of life and children are nurtured that way. The need for communal harmony overrides the individual wish and desire. Disagreements are dealt with quickly and forgiveness for overstepping boundaries were equally as speedy. But indigenous people even if they were cruel, harsh or violent to one another had to live with their natural environment with reverent-full harmony. After all, nature was their creator and destroyer. There are/were no saintly ideal human communities, but there were folks who actually lived in greater peace than others and understood what the individual’s responsibility was to maintain that harmony.” I believe we’re working together to bring about this great project.

Shalom Schwartz’s wheel of basic and universal human values illustrates Gizelle’s independently derived insight. I’m inclined to agree: those who live in reverence and wonderment of the natural world cannot help but to see and feel the deep interconnectivity of us all. I do hope you will agree.



Openness to Change vs. Conservation; Self-Transcendence vs. Self-Enhancement Values (S. Schwartz)



Salmon by Nigel Fox



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