Once again Weston Road, and York South-Weston generally, has been in the news quite a bit thanks to more senseless violence and young lives lost. However, responses to violence in our community that propose more police and do not take real crime fighting solutions into account are just as destructive; this past week we have once again been inundated with more of these ineffectual and reactionary responses. On September 6, Midyanta Community Services hastily put together what was promoted as a “Community Consultation” for the Black community at the Jane Street Hub with Toronto Chief of Police Mark Saunders.
I attended this meeting and was pleasantly surprised and happy to hear the Chief talk about the need for addressing the root causes of violence. Saunders went as far to say that arresting a perpetrator is too late and there is a need for intervention much earlier. However, he could and would not go farther than that. When I pressed him on his willingness to champion redirecting funding from police (such as Doug Ford’s proposal to give $25 million dollars over 4 years to Toronto police to address guns and gangs) to poverty reduction strategies he was quick to state that he cannot do that and offered little on what he can do.
While I was very disappointed in this response, Saunders was put in a difficult position and unfairly left on a limb by himself. When discussing the root causes of crime we cannot go to police we must demand our elected representatives to step up; sadly, in York South-Weston, they are not doing that.
The problem with gun violence and criminality in Toronto is not the magnitude but the concentration of the violence; meaning some communities are drastically over-represented by the impact of direct gun violence. More police does not address this fact and the evidence is clear. The evidence shows that if we want to address criminality we must address poverty, housing, access to food, employment, education, and the ways racial inequality is prevalent in all these areas.
The staff at Midyanta Community Services quite effectively showed this at the meeting last week by highlighting that crime statistics for 2018 showed an over concentration in low-income communities with high concentration of Black, racially marginalized, and recent Canadian communities; this includes York South-Weston. Consider the following:
- York South-Weston has the 3rd highest drop out rates in high school according to the Toronto District School Board’s August 2016 Report on Cohort Graduation Rates
- 30% of children under 18 in York South-Weston live in poverty with York South-Weston being in the top 30 ridings in Canada with highest rates of child poverty (https://campaign2000.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Campaign-2000-Riding-by-Riding-Child-Poverty-Report.pdf).
- In Ontario, there are five times more Indigenous boys and four times more Black boys in the young male jail population than what they represent in the general young male population (https://www.thestar.com/news/insight/2013/03/01/unequal_justice_aboriginal_and_black_inmates_disproportionately_fill_ontario_jails.html).
- In York South-Weston we have organizations that have shown to be more effective than police and prisons in fighting crime by showing a strong relationship between addressing education and employment needs for youth in conflict with the law and how it drastically reduces recidivism amongst these populations (http://policyoptions.irpp.org/magazines/april-2018/youth-justice-system-thats-courts-prisons/).
However, our elected representatives are disturbingly absent and silent when it comes to promoting and implementing policies to address these stark realities of neglect.
At the Midyanta meeting, MP for Humber River-Black Creek, Judy Sgro, provided some words of greetings from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau but no offerings on how the federal government would address the root causes of violence. When I pressed her on this (as she was leaving 5 minutes after the meeting began) she agreed that we need to address poverty but could not offer anything on what the Federal government would do. I would have loved to ask our own MP for York South Weston, Ahmed Hussen, on what he would do but he was noticeably absent.
MPP Faisal Hassan shared some thoughts on what could be done and I look forward to what he can bring in this area as the new Youth Engagement Critic for the NDP as the Official Opposition at Queens Park.
Our local councillors were particularly of little substance in this area. Ward 11 Councillor Frances Nunziata said little as she wanted to “listen to the community” which is disappointing considering that there has been plenty of evidence-based solutions on top of what I have briefly outlined which she could have read, advocated for, and implemented in her 30+ years in office.
The Most-Cynical-And-Outright-Neglect-Of-Responsibility Award goes to Ward 12 Councillor Frank DiGiorgio. When I asked him what he would do if re-elected as councillor, in light of the research, to address poverty in his community as a means to address violence he responded firmly “I don’t care about research”.
As residents in this community, the responsibility is on all of this to not allow our elected officials to consistently do a disservice to our law enforcement officials by hiding behind them to address eliminating criminality as they sit by to say and do nothing. We must demand that we have substantial investments in our communities are made which include housing, employment, education, and healthcare because those are real gun violence and crime fighting solutions.