Opinion: Inside Toronto’s Gun Violence, No Excuse When Kids Are Dying

hen I moved to Toronto it was during the summer of gun violence. To someone from the States it really didn’t seem so bad, after all it was handguns. It’s amazing how much an attitude can change in just a few years. Today violence shocks me, as it should.

Toronto is now dealing with a spat of gun deaths in the West Side. Senseless murders, young lives lost. When 14-year-olds are gunned down in a field and left to die something is indeed wrong.

These gun wars have nothing to do with the recession. They are a sign of the times though, desperate acts from desperate people. There is no justification. Drugs could be the motive but that can’t be the entire answer. What has happened to our youth that makes pulling the trigger even be in their thought process?

When Basil Bryan, 23, was shot in the chest, laying on the sidewalk there is footage of someone just walking on by. Has the city become that callous?

How many times will words of shock and grief be printed in newspapers like City News after Daniel Da Silva died.

“I’ve known him since he was a little kid,” said Will Roque. “What are you going to say? (His mother) is hysterical, crying, I don’t even think she’s going to the coroner’s office.”

“That’s one of the best kids in the world,” adds family friend Vitalina Rolo. “I can’t say anything bad about him, nothing.”

Kids standing at bus stops aren’t even safe.Jarvis St. Remy, 18, was gunned down in the street waiting for a bus.

City News quotes Mayor David Miller:

“Imagine being a mom, your son being gunned down like this, it’s just heartbreaking for everybody,” he said. “We just simply have to get at the guns and get them off the street.”

So what can be done to stop this violence? One answer is education. In Toronto there is one program that started in 2004 called Inner City Advisory Committee (ICCA).

Digital Journal spoke to Cassie Bell, Inner City Project Coordinator about what her program does for the youth in at-risk areas. The group works with 7 elementary schools with a total of 50 schools being touched by the program to bring a more level playing field to the early educational game. With hard fought for grant money the program last year was able to have hearing and vision tests given to students at the model schools. What they found was confounding. There were children who were in need of vision surgery, children who were deaf. Working with partnerships those children were able to be treated. Once treated, kids who had been behaviour problems in school started to be star students according to Ms. Bell.

“At what point do we stop yakking and get to work. We have to deal with the problems now.”

The program is showing results. It also like many programs that work has to fight each year for the funding to continue.

MP Mario Silva sent Digital Journal the following statement:

Of course I am concerned about gun crime in my city. Our police service works very hard to keep the streets safe and I have always been fully committed to giving them the tools they need to do their jobs properly.

More than that, along with my colleagues in the Liberal Party, I have stood up against any attempts to weaken our current gun legislation.”/quote]
In September it was announced that Toronto was taking action to prevent crime in Toronto to the tune of more than $4.9 million in funding for a project that is aimed at preventing and reducing street gang activity.

Public Safety quotes Toronto Police Chief William Blair:

“A meaningful approach to prevent and reduce crime must start with an intelligence-based, targeted enforcement approach, along with a strong community mobilization component, such as our effective Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy, but it must build on TAVIS, to encompass government and community initiatives and involvement to be truly effective,” said Toronto Police Chief William Blair. “Today’s announcement furthers the process of keeping Toronto a safe, vibrant, and diverse city.”

The money will to go to:

* addressing early risk factors among vulnerable children and youth;
* preventing youth gang and drug-related crime;
* preventing recidivism among high-risk groups; and
* fostering crime prevention in Aboriginal communities.

Yet the crimes are getting worse, the deaths more frequent. With the millions being tossed around what is being done at the street level? One program that has gotten funding is the TAVIS program. The program partners the communities at risk with Toronto police officers. The Toronto Police web site states the goal of the program:

We expect that TAVIS will reduce crime, particularly violent crime, in neighbourhoods across Toronto. It will also help the community to take charge of their own neighbourhoods; you and your neighbours will have the primary role in solving problems and preventing crime.

In the next few weeks look for more in-depth articles about school programs that work in Toronto and the TAVIS program in Toronto.

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