About 75% of shootings in Toronto are gang related. For most Weston Web readers that means little – we’re ok because we most of us don’t live in a gang neighbourhood. For those living in public housing, the fear is real. Many (especially black and male) young people are unable to travel to other neighbourhoods for fear of the consequences of straying into gang territory.
The Mayor and Police Chief can often be found behind a podium expressing dismay at a shooting event and lamenting that while everything is being done, there are no easy answers. At the same time, the head of the police union tells the public that there is an easy answer: more cops; while others want a return to provincially funded programs such as TAVIS.
This might be wrong on all counts except for the number of cops. Manchester in the U.K has a similar population to ours and has over a thousand more officers and hundreds more support staff. Manchester’s murder rate (a reliable crime indicator) is 2.44 per 100,000 people compared to 3.11 in Toronto. Incidentally, Chicago – a similar sized city to Toronto and Manchester had a murder rate of 23.8 in 2018.
We’ve known for a while what needs to be done but it’s not easy. Solving this multi-faceted problem is hard, requires brave and intelligent public officials, doesn’t work overnight and it’s expensive in the short term.
Here’s what we know about gangs.
A gang can provide:
- a surrogate family.
- perceived safety and protection.
- a path to money, success and respect.
- an outlet for frustration and anger.
- membership in a community.
Successfully combatting the lure of a gang requires more attractive alternatives and young people need to acquire the education and skills that will allow them to choose a more mainstream lifestyle.
More traditional policing is not the only answer. It’s the difference between treating the symptoms of an illness or actually getting at the cause.
Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders recently announced a $4.5 million, 11-week program aimed at reducing gun violence. Presumably after 11 weeks, the matter will be taken care of and we can all go back to sleep. In fairness, Chief Saunders is in a tough spot. Every politician is expecting him to do something but without permanent funding, he’s stuck with applying band-aids for short periods of time. As an aside; anyone who can come in to work during home dialysis and after a kidney transplant has my respect.
Clearly we’re at another crisis point and not enough is being done. The Ford government is well on its way to guaranteeing that gang violence will continue. Cuts to the minimum wage and vital services like education, health, housing and school repairs will cause the most damage in poorer neighbourhoods which is where gangs thrive.
Yes, the Ford government truly knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. Here’s an example – instead of allowing the minimum wage to rise from $14 to $15, Ford froze the wage at $14 and promised that minimum wage earners would get a (pitiful) tax break. In effect, the Ford government now subsidizes companies who pay low wages (thus increasing the deficit) yet complains that the government spends too much. Deep thinkers at the Ontario Chamber of Commerce predicted that a minimum wage rise from $11.60 to $14 would ramp up unemployment, the cost of living and would lower profits. In fact inflation didn’t budge, unemployment went down while tax revenues and profits were up. It’s counter intuitive but ‘evidence’ apparently doesn’t fit the C of C / Tory dogma. And in the meantime, a living wage is further out of reach, putting more people at risk of choosing a life of crime.
Is the solution to crime putting more people in jail? Yes for violent criminals as their incarceration protects society. Putting people in jail is expensive and surprisingly it does little to discourage crime. For example, the U.S. locks up more of its population than anywhere else on earth yet the murder rate is 5.3 per 100,000 compared to Canada’s 1.8 (2017 figures). By all means put hardened criminals in jail and reject bail for those accused of a violent crime; however, in the long run, diverting people into better lifestyles benefits society as a whole – and it’s a lot cheaper than jail.
Yes; answers to gang violence take intelligence, political courage and money. These commodities are sadly lacking when it comes to tackling the problem. The public also needs to support the police; get involved and stop protecting criminals.
What the research says we need to do:
- Educate parents on the signs of children’s gang involvement.
- Disempower gangs through infiltration, police presence and education to make membership in a gang less appealing.
- Increase penalties for smuggling and possession of unlicensed / unregistered guns.
- Provide more community facilities so that young people can gather safely.
- Publicize the 222 TIPS and rewards program.
- Increase the minimum wage to liveable levels and keep it tied to inflation.
- Provide incentives for top teachers and administrators to work in challenging schools.
- Deny public housing / housing subsidies to known gang members. Evict tenants who accommodate known gang members.
- Similar ideas from Mark Towhey here.
Somehow, the great thinkers south of the border have convinced themselves (and gullible others) that the answer to gun crime is more guns. Thanks to a bizarre misinterpretation of the Second Amendment of the U.S. constitution, the right to bear arms is enshrined. Naturally, when our neighbour is overflowing with firearms, many make their way here. Handguns being relatively easy to hide are smuggled most often. We also have legitimate collectors and target shooters whose collections are burgled adding to our gun problem.
There has been much talk of a handgun ban in Toronto. Without border guards at the entrances to the city, this is a non-starter. The federal government needs to have the courage to do this nation-wide. There are few compelling reasons for private citizens to own a gun. In the U.S. the most likely victim of a gun in a house is the owner or a family member. There’s no reason to believe that Canada is any different.
Pro Tip: if you know someone with a gun, you can call 222 TIPS and get rewarded if your tip results in a gun being confiscated ($500) or a crime being solved ($50 – $2000). There is absolute confidentiality – even to the point of the (cash) payment.