Since August 3rd there have been at least 19 shootings in Toronto. This was revealed by police Chief Mark Saunders, who followed the revelation with the comment that “If the expectations are that we’re going to arrest our way out of this, we simply are not. It does not work that way. There are social issues that are related with this.” The Chief also pointed out that the shootings are basically related to street gang activity.
That is a marked departure from the way the city’s police force would have normally commented on such matters. The Chief spoke of vulnerable communities, poverty, and the lack of educational and employment opportunities in neighbourhoods that are affected by the shootings. In so doing he showed empathy for the people of those neighbourhoods – an excellent start in getting to the root of the problem.
Generally the city police would have more likely poited us to the neighbourhoods that were affected by the shootings; neighbourhoods that would have spawned the gangs that have been ravaging their community for an eternity. The police would have suggested the lack of cooperation from the people of these neighbourhoods to help solve the crimes from which would follow public discussions of, race, immigration, etc.
So kudos to Chief Saunders for leading the discussion in a direction that stands a chance of getting to the core of the matter; a chance to approach a lasting and sensible solution, and perhaps reduce the number and level of street violence with the help of greater involvement of all stakeholders.
About this recent outbreak, police statistics have connected the dots and traced a line that runs through socially and economically deprived neighbourhoods in parts of northwest Toronto, Downtown and Scarborough. Although that is not a recent discovery because historically, gangs are almost always connected to one of the many communities that make up this diverse city; in the early days in both the US and Canada, stories abound of Irish, Italian, Russian, even Jewish gangs and organized crime. Unfortunately, that is part of our history.
In the old days the solution was simple – hunt them down, outgun them, and those who weren’t killed were given long and harsh prison sentences. The approach worked after a fashion, but knowing that gangs have remained with us in one form or another, it was more like sticking a finger in a leaky dam.
It is plain that if a solution is to be found, it must start in providing vulnerable communities with support and resources to lead the fight.
Chief Saunders’ reasoned opening to the discussions is leading in the right direction. Recently Ontario Premier Doug Ford was slammed after it was revealed that his government was holding back $14 million pledged by the previous Liberal government to build a new community hub in the troubled Lawrence Heights neighbourhood; the intent of the plan is to increase social and cultural services.
We are willing to give Mr. Ford a chance to rethink his classic budget-cutting reaction and consider the optics and consequences of a premier withholding funds for a sensible project at a time when 19 shootings have occurred within eight days.
Strengthening vulnerable communities must be coupled with stricter gun control, because we know that while gangs and organized crime will always be with us in one form or another, the availability of guns makes the gangs much more brazen and their activities far more lethal than in the days of the switch blade knife.
While we know that many guns are acquired illegally, there is no shortage of shootings done with guns from legal sources. We know that there are over two million gun owners in Canada and many of these guns end up in criminal hands. We know that the number of restricted fire arms number over 900,000 in Canada and counting.
It’s time to act on all fronts if our people are to be kept safe and enjoy the fruits of a country that counts as one of the most decent places in which to live.