Manitoba·Point of View

The high price of smashed car windows, petty crime and addiction

A frustrated 'broken windows club' victim calls for more resources to treat the disease of addiction, instead of paying for more auto insurance claims.

Frustrated vandalism victim: time to 'treat the disease instead of just fixing broken windows'

Joanne Seiff takes a photo of the smashed back window of her car, the first time it was vandalized. (Joanne Seiff)

In June, I joined a large club that I wished didn't exist. The Broken Window Club.

My car was vandalized twice and two windows were broken. 

The first episode happened as our sidewalks were being jackhammered by a city contractor. So we wondered if the SUV's back window shattered due to the vibrations. 

More likely, the property damage was criminal, even though the broken back window didn't allow anyone easy access. (We have a barrier up to keep our young dog from visiting the driver on car rides.)

I followed Manitoba Public Insurance's  instructions, filed a police report and submitted my glass e-claim. My husband kindly volunteered to take the car to be cleaned out and repaired.

We're still driving around town with plastic, instead of window glass.- Joanne Seiff

The first visit to the body shop took two hours, as the clerk explained the repair difficulties.

Our SUV was no longer made. There were no replacement back gates in Canada. The repair would be hard to do as the back was an unusual shape. Are we sure, we were asked, we wanted to get this repaired? Or could they just total the car?

My husband is patient, but not a saint. After spending two hours in the body shop, he asked the next logical question. Could he buy the car back after they totalled it?

"Well," said the clerk, "Why would you do that?"  

My husband suggested that our car had low mileage, good fuel efficiency, and it worked well for our household.

What's more, there is no way that the amount of money offered for the 16-year-old car would enable us to afford a new one.

 "What would you do with a car without a back window?" the clerk persisted. 

The increasingly frustrated response — "Drive it to the U.S., where they will fix the window!" — stopped the conversation. They would try find a new one, but it might take time.

Joanne Seiff thinks an increase in smash and grabs is linked to the addiction crisis Winnipeg is facing. (Sam Matheson/Facebook)

Eight days later, someone broke into the same car a second time, through the right front passenger window.

They got far enough to toss the inside of the car, looking for drug money, we assume. Instead, they found children's CDs, maps to places we no longer go, and other flotsam and jetsam. Nothing of value, and certainly no money.

In fact, when my husband cleaned the glass up, he found a toonie under the seat that had fallen out of somebody's pocket.

This time, we went through a special MPI process. They don't usually juggle two open glass e-claims on the same vehicle at once.

This might be where people suggest installing cameras, bright lights, and other theft devices. 

However, this is a distinct, brightly coloured vehicle, parked in a high-traffic area, with street lights right nearby and under a surveillance camera from a nearby office.

There wasn't much in the way of shelter or darkness for criminal activity. But a few days after the second window was broken, someone stole a large flower planter, which had been near the car.

Each time a vehicle is vandalized, the public is on the hook to cover the costs.- Joanne Seiff

We now have three online police reports filed for property theft and damage. But the police are busy with the rise in drug-related crime. It's up to us fill out online reports.

We've also had multiple visits to the body shop. 

First, they ordered the wrong model back gate. Then, they realized that they lacked a piece necessary to install the passenger window. When they got the right piece, it broke, and we were back to square one. It's been a month since the first window was broken, and neither window has been fixed.

During one of those visits, the body shop left a form in our car, so we know that the back window replacement will cost about $1,650. That's the cost of only one of the two windows broken!

Our two deductibles were waived, so MPI covers that cost as well. Both my partner and I lost work time with arranging online police reports, body shop visits, and more. Meanwhile, we're still driving around town with plastic instead of window glass (it's good that it's warm out).

MPI is public insurance, so each time a vehicle is vandalized, the public is on the hook to cover the costs, no matter how long it takes a body shop to repair it.

This isn't a coincidence. The rise in property crime, murders and the meth crisis are linked.- Joanne Seiff

The police are working to cope with the murders, assaults and vandalism, too.

Pallister's government only recently took federal money to combat gangs and to support mental health and addictions treatments. It's long overdue.

 Their quick action addiction clinics are open for limited hours and only in certain urban locations.

The city's drug task force is working steadily on the issue, but in my opinion, it's constrained by what the province is willing to support, in terms of safe consumption sites and other supports.

What is the cost of a drug epidemic like our current meth crisis?

It's huge. Enormous loss of life, for one thing. 

But beyond the murders and assaults, there's a startling amount of property crime. Each broken window or stolen car costs all of us because we own MPI. Manitoba needs to take all the federal money that's offered.

This isn't a coincidence. The rise in property crime, murders and the meth crisis are linked, and it affects us all. 

Addiction doesn't just happen to other people's families, and this vandalism is only a symptom of a bigger illness. 

Providing mental health and addictions treatment and other social supports makes strong economic sense.

Let's use our resources to treat the disease instead of just fixing those broken windows.

This column is part of  CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.


Joanne Seiff is the author of several books, including Knit Green, about textile sustainability. She works in Winnipeg as a freelance writer.


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