Guns and Roses: A New Crisis in Toronto?
As of midnight, September 24th of this year, Toronto has seen a total of 310 shootings with 407 counted victims, and 40 deaths within that figure. This constitutes a staggering, but unsurprising amount, given the string of shootings that have been reported this year. The Danforth shooting in particular still echoes within the conscience of the city’s residents.
However, we have to ask: is this a large epidemic or just a fact of life in Toronto? One doesn’t have to look too far for an answer. Numbers collected by the Toronto Police Service tell us that while the number of shooting incidents and deaths are, in fact, higher than this time two years ago, they have not been particularly low before either. In 2016 and 2017, there were 305 and 292 shooting incidents, respectively, as well as 29 deaths for both years. Prior to that, the number of incidents drops to a low of 178 recorded incidents in 2015 and 22 fatalities in 2014. If we look a few years back, we will see steady rise for both categories, with 2007 in fact seeing 43 shooting deaths.
Change in shooting locations was brought up by Claire Wilmot of The Toronto Star as a justification for the air of sudden crisis in the city, with areas like 52 Division (the area including Kensington, University, and Spadina neighborhoods) experiencing an increase of 250 percent, while more vulnerable areas like Rexdale, Jane and Finch, and Lawrence Heights have seen a 40 percent decline since 2016.
Behold the Harris era: Just before its arrival, shootings in the city were, relatively speaking, less of an issue. The Common Sense policy put out by the Conservative government resulted in cuts to social assistance and a number of community supports that focused on poverty and social isolation. Neil Price of Now Toronto said that community leaders warned the province of the consequences of attempting to “reduce people to nothing.”
2005 saw the “Summer of the Gun”, during which 52 people died of shootings, namely the young, impoverished black men “who had better access to guns than to jobs.” The succeeding McGuinty government reversed course by focusing on youth programs, but this effort proved to be lacklustre. Gang-prevention programs that started in 2009 were eventually starved of funding, and their staff burnt out. A 2008 Liberal review detailing the links between the lack of social and economic opportunity and gun violence was received with hesitation by the government (led by the authors’ own party); it took a while for the government to even officially receive it.
In light of more recent events, the city has approved $8 million to address gun violence, of which $7.4 million has been dedicated to enforcement and surveillance activity, and $1 million for community programs aimed at addressing the root causes of violence. There are also calls for the return of more directly-involved police programs, such as the Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy (TAVIS) which ran from 2006 to 2013. According to Public Safety Canada, this was effective in positively changing community perception of crime and disorder, in addition to seeing a notable reduction in crime accompanying 1,300 arrests and the seizure of $23,000 over its operating period. However, this program also saw criticism, notably in alleged harassment of community members and the rolling back of parole policies, leading to longer prison sentences for youth and thus more difficult rehabilitation and reintegration into society.
A number of circumstances may see a policy shift in this area. This is more than just the jump of shooting deaths this year. With a heavy-handed Conservative provincial government, we may see a return to similar approaches of addressing gun violence. We also have the upcoming municipal elections, where the rhetoric on gun bans and community and response programs come up when the hot issue of public safety is discussed, as a catalyst for this potential change. If anything, we must hope and act in order to reverse the ballooning issue of Torontonian gun violence.