As individuals and communities, we all want justice.

According to the Cambridge English Dictionary, justice is “fairness in the way people are dealt with.” Business defines justice as “fairness in protection of rights and punishment of wrongs.”

Many people in the community are expressing a lot of outrage and feelings of injustice over issues of crime and safety, bylaw enforcement, and problem properties.

Most recently in May, Carmen Pervez, a notorious landlord, had his drug-related charges dropped; his lawyer said this was due to issues with the search warrant. The month prior, Public Health Act charges related to his company’s properties were stayed (put on indefinite hold) because they took longer than 18 months to get to trial, although Alberta Health Services is appealing that decision.

Local residents often complain about problem properties. Residents report being subjected to constant crime and disorder and sometimes even intimidation because of the residents of these various properties. Having someone who they see as a prominent player contributing to the problem get off on charges has many feeling angry and hopeless.

The costs of development and bylaw compliance, enforcement orders, policing, investigations, and prosecutions related to Pervez and his properties are HUGE and have been a complete waste of resources and taxpayers’ money.

Problem properties are dotted throughout our neighbourhoods. A property in Parkdale made city news in April when fed up neighbours spoke out about a growing pile of trash. The house on 86 Street and 112 Avenue had a history of complaints dating back to 2016. While the city issued a fine and clean up order, the owner had 21 days to comply. In that time, the trash heap grew exponentially as more people used the site as a dump.

Notice periods for clean up orders are mandated by the provincial Municipal Government Act (MGA). Before issuing an order, the city tries to get compliance with a warning notice and/or fine. But it can take up to six weeks to get to the point where the city can bring contractors onto a private property to clean it up. In the meantime, neighbours are stuck living next to the mess that often blows and spreads down the alley or street and onto nearby properties.

These are only two examples of injustices in our community. Residents have worked countless hours over the years to revitalize the area, but the impact of our work is limited when many of the issues our neighbourhoods face are systemic, deep-rooted, and connected to larger social issues such as poverty. Community leaders frequently get frustrated with the lack of real progress and burn out from the never-ending battles; some just give up.

The judicial system is based on great principles, but it’s imperfect. As hard as it is to stomach, we may not always get what we want and need from the justice system for our communities.

So what now? If we can’t rely on our judicial system, what is a community to do to get justice? Or do we just give up? Can we ever truly revitalize these core neighbourhoods when facing so many systemic issues?

Community members have little control over retributive justice (punishment for wrongdoing), but maybe we can work on restorative justice (focusing on repairing the harm and restoring what is good).

Get to know your neighbours. Neighbours can watch out for each other and report issues and provide support dealing with common issues.

If is safe to do so, meet your neighbours with whom you have been having problems. Perhaps they could be better neighbours with a little support. Maybe they don’t have a lawnmower or aren’t physically able to do yard work. Maybe bringing them a garbage can could help eliminate some of the garbage mess of torn open bags.

Try and get contact information for any landlords near you so you can notify them directly of any issues related to their property. Catch them when they come by the property, ask the renters, or pull the land title and then search for contact information. It’s worth repeating you should only do this if it’s safe to do so. Your safety comes first.

Install motion lights, cameras, and signage to deter problematic behavior such as illegal dumping.

Take action to limit harm. Organize a block clean up. Place a sharps container in a problematic location. Help neighbours build fences or take security measures.

Report even when it seems pointless. Even if there is no visible action or change, at least the number of problems and issues are being logged. This is helpful to community leaders lobbying for resources and systemic change.

Work on great community building projects to energize and inspire you. Don’t just spend all your time fighting problems.

Support social justice when you can, such as safe, affordable housing run by respected organizations. Support services for people who need them. Support poverty-reduction strategies.

Live your life with dignity, compassion, and fairness. After all, we need people modeling and teaching these skills in society as an example to others.

Life is often unfair. Be disappointed but don’t let it make you bitter and angry. Well, some anger is good, it can cause action and change. Change is needed.

Featured Image: It can sometimes feel like the justice system doesn’t work as it should. | Pixabay