“Toronto is one of the safest cities in North America. Although our homicide and robbery rates are well below those of US cities of comparable size, Toronto is still touched from time to time by violent acts.”
If you Google “Toronto Safety,” the first thing to appear in the search engine is this realistic, but ineffectively reassuring, statement about our enormous metropolis. Directly below this, you’ll find hundreds of timely headlines all asking the same question about the latter declaration: Why, then, has Ontario’s capital been cursed with a string of tragic shootings that have made us feel exactly the opposite?
In the wake of a sickening shooting rampage that killed two young people at a children’s Scarborough barbecue last night, the city is shaken again. Shaken far too soon after a man opened fire on a Little Italy patio killing a gang leader while families dined in front of the Euro Cup. Far too soon after the Toronto Eaton Centre’s bustling food court was peppered with bullets during a Saturday dinner hour, killing two young men and injuring innocent bystanders including a pregnant woman and a toddler. In all three isolated scenarios, angry men with guns turned on other angry men they knew – senselessly attempting to settle their beef in public.
And so, in light of these disturbing occurrences, legislative questions are re-raised, proper allocation of social funding is suspect and, ultimately, fingers are pointed at the booming city for finding itself in a tragic and seemingly unprecedented predicament of futile gang violence. A visibly (and rightfully) distressed Police Chief Bill Blair called Scarborough’s shooting “the worst incident of gun violence anywhere in North America.” While I think Blair was overcome and realizes this is hardly the case (Columbine, Virginia Tech – even multiple casualties in last night’s Alabama bar outbreak), the gravity of the tragedies is heartbreaking and shouldn’t be trivialized. The Scarborough shooting is certainly one of, if not the, worst in recent Toronto history. That being said, gang violence is anything but new to this city – and for a home to over 3 million people, Toronto is still in a much better situation than some of its American counterparts.
Toronto is, of course, not the safest city in the world. But it is certainly not the most dangerous; certainly not one suffering from an epidemic or outbreak of incomparable random violence and chaos that will lead to locked doors, a culture of fear and the end of civility. Gang members have and will continue to seek each other out in heats of rage. Yet, we’re all wondering why 2012 has been cursed with such apparent mass calamity? This issue is multi-faceted and no one person will have the correct answer – especially not myself. But a part of what this issue boils down to is that – alongside unparalleled sadness for anyone involved – the idiotic misuse of firearms by people with no apparent regard for other human life has plagued us as of late.
‘What can we possibly do about it’? is the exhausted question on everyone’s minds. Although targeted investment has been made in Toronto’s troubled neighbourhoods, a fact of life is that some youth and gang members will rebel against using such services. The effort to turn children away from crime needs to still be made – programs need to be offered, youth outreach has to be focused in Toronto’s “priority centres” – however, there is no accounting (in any city) for those that simply will not respond. Similarly, we should, of course, continue to rehabilitate those who have already committed crimes. Although we can strengthen already existing gun laws in new ways – the laws are in place – no one who has opened fire in Toronto’s public places in recent months has legally possessed their weapon. Banning bullets will not ban bullets. We know this. We know that this comes down to certain people, all over the world, who suffer basic human inadequacies when deciding what is right and what is wrong. As Joe Fiorito quotes in today’s Star, “We’re not talking to these young men, the ones who have the world view that makes it ‘sensible’ to shoot other people.” This issue comes down to some people, and how we can try to reach them against all of the odds. And that, I don’t immediately know how we do. But I do know that it isn’t just the neighbourhoods, the genetic makeup of this great city or the disposition of anyone who has suffered hardships in their lives. It isn’t just Toronto or the people in it.
The incidents have added up, creating a weightiness that’s almost suffocating when trying to mine over the details and logically suggest an answer. But, the bottom line is, you can’t control some people – seeing as some careless people can’t control themselves. We can try to strengthen what’s already in place, we can admire our city’s law enforcement for immediately detaining the suspects in several of this year’s unfortunate shooting incidents and we can feel compassion for their tireless involvement and own longing for solutions. But we shouldn’t be angry with Toronto or those who are realistically doing their best to protect it. We certainly shouldn’t shut ourselves out of it after decades of boasting its unity and safety. Several inexcusable and shattering incidents have occurred – the depth of each misfortune is shocking to all of us – but the plight of ridiculous human-versus-human aggression that results in random bloodshed cannot be blamed on a city that’s doing its best.