Community safety issues meeting report.

It’s no secret that poverty and crime often go hand in hand. At the September 12 community meeting organized by several York South-Weston community associations, these items were flagged by the 90 participants as actions that would help increase safety in the community. Actions were summarized under headings which have been placed in italics.

Some of the raw data captured during the meeting. From MDCA. Click to enlarge.

To try to make sense of the raw data generated by participants, I have arbitrarily categorized the actions as Social actions (S), Police actions (P) or both (SP). To skip the raw data and see the summary, scroll to the header ‘Summary’.

Youth susceptible to gang entry:
Financially accessible after-school programs (S)
Provide job opportunities (S)
Mental health support and awareness (S)
Parenting classes and parenting help (S)
Open Weston Lions Arena for ice time (S)
Baseball teams. (S)
High school drop-out rate:
Every child to have a learning development plan used by teachers, parents and community organizations (S)
All youth in conflict with the law to be directed to education programs (S)
Gear education to work and employment. (S)
Homelessness:
Employment program for the homeless (S)
Eliminate requirement that to receive welfare you need an address (S)
Create a strategy to build more housing and improve access to housing. (S)
Gun Violence:
Restorative justice (SP)
Youth Programs (S)
Reducing program wait lists (S)
Tighter gun control (S)
Post-incarceration programs (S)
Hire more support workers (S)
Education about gun violence in schools (S)
More security in Smythe Park (SP)
Animate Smythe Park by holding events and/or adding amenities (S)
Neighbourhood walks (S)
Getting residents more information about gun violence (S)
Break-Ins:
Report to police (SP)
More outdoor lighting (S)
Talk to your neighbours (S)
Pet patrols (S)
CPTED (Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design) (S)
Car Thefts:
Hide valuables (S)
Security cameras (SP)
Walk or get a bike (S)
Better community engagement (S)
Fraud:
Fraud prevention information sessions (SP)
Do not share information (S)
Publicise current scams (SP)
Report fraud to the Police and to companies involved (e.g. bank scams) (P)
Hang up the phone (S)
Speeding:
More Police enforcement especially on Jane, Weston and Eglinton (P)
Police presence on random days and times (P)
30K speed limit on side streets (SP)
Speed bumps (S)
Violent crime:
Review funding, resources and support (S)
Address poverty issues (S)
Artscape programs (S)
Use High School students’ community hours to work with Elementary School students in after-school programs on art, music, sports, mentoring (S)
Neighbourhood change (?)
Police presence (SP)
Street Safety Visibility:
Fix lighting (S)
Secure vacant buildings (S)
More cameras (SP)
Increase reporting of all crime (SP)
Know your neighbours (S)
Walk your community (S)
Garbage removal (S)
Accuracy of What is Happening in Community:
Attend community meetings (S)
Read print and email newsletters (S)
Define problem accurately (S)
Ask questions (S)
Make it easier to access data (S)
Pedestrian safety:
Education from school age to seniors (S)
Reduce traffic speed limits (S)
Longer crossing times (S)
More speed enforcement (P)
Traffic calming measures (S)
Bike lanes (S)
Sidewalks for pedestrians (S)
Remove barriers on sidewalks (S)
Lighting:
Lighting audits in our community (S)
Update lighting infrastructure (S)
More solar panels (S)
Drugs:
Stay vigilant in regard to surroundings (S)
Report suspicious activity (SP)
Increase police presence (P)
Creation of a task force (TAVIS?)(P)
Install cameras (SP)
Sex assaults:
Education and training on consent and prevention of assaults (S)
Focused community engagement in schools and faith groups (S)
Police presence (P)
Lack of community police presence:
Advertise online reporting of minor crime (SP)
Report all incidents (P)
More bicycle officers (P)
Attend CPLC meetings (SP)
Lack of evidence of successful youth programs: (S)
Talk to levels of government about assessing community supports (S)
Market local resources to youth (S)
Dispensary equals crime?:
Court has to make it a punishable crime (P)
Community consultations (S)
Additional issues of concern that the meeting did not have time to deal with included:
irresponsible driving (at red lights, crosswalks, stop signs) (P)
cycling on sidewalks (P)
walking while texting on cellphones (P)
jay walking (P)

Summary:

Here is my tally of the types of measures recommended during the meeting.

  • Social actions:  62
  • Police actions: 14
  • Social and Police actions: 14

69% of the recommendations were of a preventative nature, 16% dealt with enforcement while 16% were a combination of the two. One would hope that  the political response to this excellent community effort would not distort the message from the community. In other words, the recommendations suggest most of the efforts directed to reducing crime should be go to addressing the roots of poverty and crime rather simply by adding more police officers.

Click to enlarge. From metrocosm.com

The United States has greatly increased its spending on prisons compared to education and community support. It’s clear that this approach doesn’t work. Let’s not make the same mistake here.

Incidentally, Premier Ford has said that he wants to bring back TAVIS (Toronto Anti Violence Intervention Strategy). Let’s hope he doesn’t. He’s already on record as opposing the January 1, 2019 minimum increase from $14 to $15 so it’s clear he’s not very good at cause and effect.

Update: this article was amended to correct the impression that the meeting was held under the auspices of only one (but awesome) community association.

Time to Effectively Address Gun Violence

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.

 

Action is needed on gun control.

Last night’s senseless and tragic shootings on the Danforth are more evidence of Toronto’s gun problem. More ruined lives and shattered families at the hands of a (probably disturbed) young man with a gun.

I agree with Mayor Tory when he asks, “Why does anyone in this city need to have a gun at all?”.  There is no good reason for anyone in this city to own a handgun. If you are a target shooter or collector, sorry; you should realize that the safety of the public must come before your hobby.

For those who believe that owning a gun will protect you and your loved ones, think again. The numbers show that guns don’t work for self defence. Statistics from our neighbours to the south amply demonstrate that the person most likely to be shot by a gun is its owner. About one child per week in the U.S. is accidentally shot by a family member’s gun.

A person pulling the trigger on a gun is most likely to be shooting themselves, then their family, then commit a felony, then way, way, way down the line, if they’re lucky, they hit a bad guy.   – Psychology Today

Until recently, most guns used in criminal acts came from the U.S. Now, the majority are supplied domestically from legal and illegal sources or from burgled gun collectors.

The Harper government weakened gun laws in this country in 2012. At the time they insisted that it was the right thing to do, emulating their Republican and NRA friends. Unfortunately, we are seeing the results of that misguided legislation.

Firearms flooded into Canada after Stephen Harper’s Conservative government dismantled the federal long gun registry in 2012 — nearly two million rifles, shotguns and handguns were imported for retail sale across the country over just five years, federal records show. iPolitics.ca 

The Trudeau government has proposed legislation that will tighten gun purchasing requirements. The legislation has been criticized for being too weak. This Liberal platform promise has languished for too long and needs urgent action.

One thing is clear in all the (legitimate) studies; gun control works. What then needs to be done?

There should be:

Guns are far too readily available to far too many people – Mayor Tory

Local man graduates from police college

Shevan Ellis in his cadet’s uniform.

Congratulations to local man Shevan Ellis who graduated from the Toronto Police College last week and is now working as a police constable in Toronto Police’s 53 Division. According to toronto.com, Mr. Ellis came to the Weston Road and Eglinton area from Jamaica in 1998 at the age of 12. He worked in Mount Dennis in the field of mental health and thought that he had something to offer the police in terms of an understanding of mental health issues.

Read more in TPS news and toronto.com.

Nnamdi Ogba: Homicide Squad make two arrests

Mayor John Tory listens on Friday March 23rd as Nnamdi Ogba’s parents plead for help in solving their son’s murder.

Two Toronto men were arrested in their homes today and have been charged with the murder of Nnamdi Ogba who was murdered in cold blood two weeks ago. At a press conference held on Thursday, March 29, Superinendent Ron Taverner and detective Jason Shankaran discussed the killing and the community response that led to the arrests.

Nnamdi Ogba

Taverner and Shankaran theorized that the two suspects were arrested so quickly thanks to a sense of outrage on the part of the community along with a highly motivated police force; the police acting quickly to bring the alleged killers of an entirely blameless man into custody. They stressed that Mr. Ogba was a hard working member of the community randomly targeted while visiting friends in Scarlettwood Court. Detective Shankaran told reporters, “You can always judge a person’s family by the people that they’re surrounded by”.  “And I knew I was dealing with a good man here”.

Police shift resources to 23 and 12 Divisions

At the press conference, Superintendent Taverner stated that extra police have been moved into the area to boost their visible presence in ‘troubled communities’ such as Scarlettwood so that residents can regain a sense of security in their neighbourhoods. Taverner declined to say how long the extra officers would be deployed but did say, “The public would be proud to know what the (Homicide) officers have done to bring this case before the courts”.

Congratulations to Toronto Police and also to the people who had the courage to come forward and help bring these alleged killers into custody.

Police are still seeking more information from associates of the two alleged suspects in their search for the driver of the getaway vehicle, a dark SUV.

  • Contact police at 416-808-7400
  • Crime Stoppers (anonymously) at 416-222-TIPS (8477)
  • Online: www.222tips.com
  • Text TOR and send message to CRIMES (274637).

UPDATE: On Friday March 30, according to the Toronto Star, police announced that the alleged driver had been arrested and was in custody.

Scarlettwood candlelight vigil tonight

Tonight at Scarlettwood Court, there will be a candlelight vigil at to respect the life of Nnamdi Ogba whose life was taken a week ago. Mayor John Tory will be joining the vigil at 7 pm.

Scarlettwood Court shootings cause for concern

Inside Scarlettwood Court.

Scarlettwood Court is a TCHC housing complex in Greater Weston™, just off Scarlett road, on the opposite side of the Humber. The development was built in the 1960s and is home to hundreds of families from a wide variety of backgrounds. Planners (as they did back then) created an isolated enclave in a beautiful setting overlooking Raymore Park with two main entrances; one from busy Scarlett Road and the other from Waterton. There is a little used pathway that leads down to Raymore Park.

The main entrance to Scarlettwood off Scarlett Road.

In recent years, several shootings have left residents on edge and fearful. These are the major incidents I have been able to track down.

September 1989 double murder – solved

August 2005: Sarfaraz Shah murdered – unsolved cold case*

January 2014: Colin Mohamed murdered – unsolved cold case

September 2015: three men shot – unsolved cold case

February 2016: Bryan Agyei murdered – unsolved

March 2016: gunfire reported – teen arrested

August 2016: a man was shot in the legs in a drive-by shooting – unsolved

April 2017: car found with windows shot out – unsolved

January 2018: Shaquille Wallace shot dead – unsolved

March 2018: Nnamdi Ogba, 26, of Toronto shot dead. – unsolved

*Cold cases are unsolved crimes older than three years.

Toronto Police claim a ‘clearance’ or solving rate for murders of 80%. Clearly 21st Century murders at Scarlettwood have a clearance rate of 0%.

Scarlettwood’s other entrance from Waterton.

The reason behind the spate of shootings is unclear but the story goes that Scarlettwood is the home of the ‘All Crips Gang‘ which apparently has territorial claims stretching down to Dundas Street. Presumably they deal in drugs and other contraband. There may have been a truce between the various gangs at one time but that seems to have ended. According to police, the latest shooting of Mr Ogba, an electrical engineer, seems to have been entirely by chance; criminals from outside Scarlettwood appear to have selected him randomly.

The local councillor for Scarlettwood (in Ward 2) is Mike Ford who responded to my email on March 19 to say,

“I thank you for bringing this concern to my attention and I do sincerely sympathize with you.
I want to assure you that the safety of Etobicoke is at my highest priority and any violence especially criminal violence is a serious concern.

I have spoken with Mayor Tory and Toronto Police Chief in the past and I will be doing the same for this incident. Although there is no easy answer to this problem I will be following up with yourself and the community for their input on this matter.”

I replied to the councillor that if anyone needs sympathy and help, it’s the law-abiding people trying to raise their families, trapped in the confines of Scarlettwood Court.

Residents told me that dozens of police responded on the night of the murder. Cruisers were parked all along Scarlett Road. Today when I walked through Scarlettwood, there was no police presence and residents confirmed that the police are a rare sight.

What’s to be done?

  1. The Mayor should bring his travelling podium show and together with Councillor Mike Ford visit Scarlettwood to meet with residents and listen to concerns. This would show solidarity with residents.
  2. Toronto Police need to get out of their cars and make meaningful and lasting contact with residents. The Community Safety Unit run by TCHC does not absolve police of their ongoing responsibilities. Police also need to avoid showing up in large numbers rather than in ones and twos.
  3. Community groups and social justice warriors should make this their fight too. They need to contact residents and help organize some kind of community association (if none exists) and start a ‘take back Scarlettwood’ movement.
  4. Politicians, police and the community should make and implement a plan of action to support residents.
  5. Because of the limited entrances to Scarlettwood Court, in addition to the existing cameras, it would seem logical to have good quality cameras set up to monitor who comes and goes; cameras with the ability to see images clearly. In 2016, 100 cameras were installed.

Incidentally, the fight for gun control in the U.S. is our fight too. The majority of guns used in Toronto crimes originate in the U.S.