Clearly, politicians alone cannot solve the growing problem of gun and gang violence plaguing Canada.
So we were heartened to learn that the government of Canada had convened a summit which brought together representatives from law enforcement agencies and academia as well as Indigenous, youth and community organizations and municipalities to address the problem .
At the summit, held last week in the nation’s capital, the Mayor of Toronto said that more money and stronger laws are needed to fight the scourge of gang-related gun violence.
We have no quarrel with Mayor Tory over the need for more dollars to combat gun and gang violence – or indeed for tougher laws. But in Toronto, Canada’s largest city, we need more than financial resources to combat this problem. We also need greater community involvement, if we are to make any headway in ridding ourselves of this ugly scourge.
We were pleased to learn that the Toronto-based Zero Gun Violence Movement (ZGVM) was invited to attend the summit. Unfortunately, this community group which has been actively involved in the fight against gun violence for several years, did not have an opportunity to make a significant input into the discussions.
A small delegation from the ZGVM, headed by Louis March, the founder of the organization, was present at the summit. It included two mothers from Toronto who had lost sons from gun violence. But they did not get a chance to be heard. As March told the Caribbean Camera, in an interview, ” the people at our table were given just about a minute or two to speak.”
However, the question of community involvement remains very much on the minds of March and members of his group.
How does one deal with the problem of gun violence in the Black community when someone is shot dead at a house party and no one wants to provide information to the police about the shooting?
How about the gunmen or former gunmen in the community who may have something to say about the problem ? Is anyone listening to them?
How do you convince witnesses to crimes of gun violence that they will be given adequate protection before and after testifying in court?
Community organizations like the ZGVM have an important role to play in dealing with the problem of gun and gang violence?
Clearly, the summit missed the mark because, as March pointed out, ” many voices were missing, including the victims of gun and gang violence whose stories and experiences are crucial in better understanding the full personal, community and social impacts.”
Tackling the gun and gang violence problem is not ‘political kryptonite’ as some politicians may claim. It is actually a political opportunity to step up and do the right thing to help make our communities safe for all and not, only for some.
Ralph Goodale, the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, did get it right when he said after the summit that “we all need to work together to tackle these challenges and to implement solutions.”
This is what community organizations such as the ZGVM have been advocating as the problem continues to escalate in Canada’s major cities.
The number of firearm-related homicides in Canada hit 223 in 2016 – up 44 from 2015, and the third consecutive annual increase.
In Toronto, the number of gun homicides in Toronto rose from 22 in 2013 n to 41 in 2016,
As March suggested, it is high time that John Tory and his government convene a made-in-Toronto anti-gun and gang violence summit. Collaborating with the provincial government in organizing such a summit is necessary because its absence and silence will be a major problem in itself.
Let us make sure that all the stakeholders have a voice at the table.