Councillor lulls drunks with lollipops

Sheena Goodyear, QMI Agency

You might not be able to change the world by giving people free candy, but a city councillor in Victoria says it's a good place to start.

When the bars closed on Canada Day this year, Charlayne Thornton-Joe and her colleagues handed out 11,000 lollipops to people on the streets in an effort to curb the violence and vandalism that accompanies big celebrations.

Although she has no academic study to prove it, she says it worked.

"Of course, there's no scientific evidence for this, but the four of us who handed them out saw the effects right away," she said.

She came up with the idea while working on two city committees: One dedicated to Canada Day celebrations and the other to deal with late-night, alcohol-fuelled crime.

"One of the problems that we continue to struggle with is people who come down and see it not as a time to celebrate respectfully, but as a time, basically, to party," she said. "It tends to be young males who get overly intoxicated and overzealous and we tend to deal with things like fights and vandalism and it keeps our police busy later on Canada Day."

Thornton-Joe came across literature about cities in the U.K. that handed out lollipops late at night, and she decided to get the city's Canada Day sponsors to help her test out the idea.

"Normally I would not walk into these groups, because they were really... well, you could feel the energy," she said. "But I would walk right up into these crowds of people and say, 'Hi guys. Happy Canada Day. Can I offer you a Canada Day lollipop?'

"As soon as they started popping them in their mouths you could see a smile. They would have a calming effect...They just seemed chilled out."

She has a few theories on why it worked so well.

"The lollipops reduce dialogue. When you have a lollipop in your mouth, it's hard to be yelling at someone at the same time," she said.

Also, the candy brings up people's sugar levels after a long night of partying, and it has a soothing pacifier-like effect.

"And it's hard to be tough and macho when you're sucking on a lollipop," she said. "You're not as threatening."

She does have one statistic to back up her claim. Most years, bus drivers report violence and vandalism on Canada Day. This year was different.

"The bus drivers said people were friendly, which I've never heard before," she said. "Some of them said they had lollipops when they got on the bus, because we were handing them out at the bus stops."

Thornton-Joe stressed that candy isn't the solution to the problem, but just "a fun, lighthearted way we can add to part of the solution, and low-cost."

The city is planning to do the same next Canada Day.

"I think if you did it every weekend downtown it would probably lose some of the effect," she said.