It’s one thing to note that Toronto has endured more than 90 homicides so far this year — a grim record with still another month and a half to go. The number, if you’re not careful, can kind of blend into the back of your consciousness, another notch on some terrible scoreboard that barely registers among the noise of the everyday math of urban life.
It’s another thing to sit down, as I and other Star online readers did early this week, and read through the names and stories and details of every one of the 90 murder victims whose lives had been claimed as of this weekend.
To do so is to experience shock, and anger, and sadness as it all sinks in. Dwayne Vidal, the 31-year-old chef in a long-term care home who was shot in March steps away from his Etobicoke home where the three young children he reportedly adored were waiting for him. Ninety-four-year-old Betty Forsyth who loved walking so much she wore out the wheels on her walker, and was using it on Yonge St. when she was killed in the van attack in April. Ten-year-old competitive swimmer Julianna Kozis, shot in the Danforth mass shooting in July. Fifteen-year-old Mackai Jackson, known for his “winning smile” and his love of playing basketball, shot in the Regent Park building where he lived in September.
The names and faces and details bring it home: it’s not just a matter of numbers. These are our neighbourhoods being shot up. Our neighbours being killed.
I imagine most Torontonians can find personal connections to some of these stories. Among the victims this year were a family member of a childhood friend of mine and an acquaintance of a member of my family. One shooting took place a few blocks from my home, another a few blocks from my parents’ home, where I grew up. These crimes took place across the city — from Rexdale to Kensington Market to West Hill. It should hit close to home for each of us.
But the perspective we gain from absorbing the humanity of these victims, and the tragic and unacceptable circumstances of their death, can also be useful, if it leads us to the determination that we will do better.
Just as we didn’t eradicate small pox with harsher treatment of the disease and tougher fighting of the symptoms, we aren’t likely to effectively reduce homicides and gun crime through enforcement. Or at least not through enforcement alone. We need a vaccine.
And we have one, of sorts, if we will just use it. The Review of the Roots of Youth Violence Report was handed over to the provincial government 10 years ago, after another horrible year of shooting crime. It recommended, as a library of studies before it has, that the most effective way to prevent youth violence and gang crime is to invest in community resources. Provide access to services and education to young people who are vulnerable to becoming sucked into criminal culture. Provide programs that give them places to go, communities to participate in, supportive mentors and peers to lean on. Give them opportunities to pursue brighter educational and career opportunities.
This is what we can most reasonably expect to make us safer, and doing it will also make the city a better place to live for untold thousands of residents who will benefit from such programs and the opportunities they provide, and the strong neighbourhoods they help build.
The thing is, doing this isn’t even all that expensive, in government terms. The city’s action plan, adopted in 2014 and based on that report’s recommendations, requires $15.8 million per year in funding. That would amount to a rounding error in the police budget of over $1.1 billion, for instance.
And yet, as my colleague Jennifer Pagliaro reported in October, that program has so far survived on less than $500,000 in annual stable funding.
Fully funding that program — and expanding it into something larger and more vibrant and more hopeful — ought to be among the city government’s very top priorities.
Encouragingly, Mayor John Tory said this week that reviewing such funding would be at the top of his agenda. “I think what we have to do is double and triple and quadruple our resolve to try and address it as best we can,” he said, according to a Star report Monday.
Our resolve and our budgets, one hopes he means. We owe it to the memory of those victims who have died this year in the absence of action we could have taken and did not. We need to do it to create a better, safer city, to ensure we aren’t faced with another, similar list of new victims 10 years from now.
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Edward Keenan is a columnist based in Toronto covering urban affairs. Follow him on Twitter: @thekeenanwire