To the editor:
It’s clear we have a problem with guns and gangs in Toronto. So what’s the solution?
Do we want Guardian Angels patrolling our streets?
Or even better, do we really want media hound Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti to become a self-imposed gang czar – this being the same councillor who wanted to arm Toronto’s bylaws officers with firearms?
None of these will do of course.
What we do need is an immediate, coordinated and comprehensive plan of action, a plan of action that does not take days to form but only hours.
When Toronto was hit by an outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2002 and 2003, community leaders and politicians moved fast to combat Toronto’s reputation from being further bruised.
Businessman David Pecaut and company staged a rock concert of all rock concerts featuring the Rolling Stones. Thousands came out; in fact it was billed as the largest ticketed outdoor concert in Canadian history.
They didn’t stop there of course, festivals like that of Luminato were created to showcase to the world that Toronto was indeed a world-class city.
In our opinion their actions worked.
Because they were focused, efficient and didn’t waste time. They acted because they knew that if they didn’t it would be too late to save Toronto from being branded as a place not to visit. They simply knew what had to be done.
How is it then that when Toronto is hit with such devastating gun crimes like we have just witnessed this summer, we suddenly blank out or resort to tired practices of dealing with gun crime.
We have reams of statistics, bundles of studies and reports from many sources reporting on how to tackle gun crime, but we seem to fail at moving forward with an actual plan, a new plan.
So far the only true action that has been taken is that of the Ontario government and Toronto police.
In the immediate aftermath of the Scarborough shooting, Premier Dalton McGuinty rolled funding for Toronto’s Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy (TAVIS). TAVIS includes roving units of 72 officers deployed into Toronto’s hot spots and receives about $5 million a year from the province to operate.
In addition, the province will spend $500,000 to support stronger coordination among Toronto police and will present an “action plan” in 30 days.
The Toronto police are placing more “approachable police officers” on our streets and deploying resources accordingly.
Great start but not enough to truly combat such a deep social problem. For this we do need a deeper coordinated effort in tackling the problem.
What we suggest is a truly direct and interim approach that can be deployed immediately – until a coordinated and comprehensive plan of action is implemented. This approach would form Toronto city council’s response. So far they don’t have one.
We propose that 10 per cent of Toronto’s land transfer tax - about $30 million - be immediately deployed to Toronto’s front line responders - police, community youth engagers, those managing at-risk youth programs, those running on the ground not-for-profits working in gun crime hot spots and the Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC).
Toronto police can use the additional allotment for more officers on the streets or to use the funds as part of TAVIS or as they see fit. Police have the experience, tactical operational experience and knowledge to get guns off our streets. They just need the resources.
The non-for profits and youth engagers can use the interim influx of funding to identify and engage with at risk youth. As front line workers in such a hot climate, they know more than any politician or government official on what works best.
The TCHC could use extra funds to ensure their properties are safe and clean – better locks on doors; extra security cameras; better lighting in the complexes; and to ensure their buildings are properly maintained.
Now, we’re neither experts nor do we hold our idea as the key to ending gun crime in the city. We, however, are engaged and concerned citizens of Toronto. We want our community leaders to start thinking outside the box and to act instead of talking a good game.
As David Pecaut once said, “The importance of a civil society is one in which people of goodwill come together to solve a city’s problems.”
- Bruce Baker, Chris Yaccato