Whatsup guys? Welcome back to A Matter of Opinion. A podcast produced here at York University in Toronto Canada. I’m your host Srdjan Soso. To begin I’d like to thank our professor Dr.Bell, my teaching assistant Keith, the Professional Writing department and York University for their hard work and valuable insight into emerging forms of communication and keeping education relevant with current technological demands. Today we will be discussing gun violence in Toronto, and I promise I won’t be bombarding you with statistics and political rhetoric to try and win over votes. Haha. Instead, let's focus on the issue on a deeper level. As someone who had been in a gang for well over 6 years, I can assure you that stiffer gun laws, beefed up police forces and policy changes will not solve the problem. There is more going on behind the scenes that many are not ready or willing to admit and those are the hard facts were going to present here today. So let’s not waste time and get into it! Let’s go!
Welcome back to the show. So you might be wondering why the increase in gun violence and what does it signify? Well, a number of things. A number of failed government policies, over-policing including carding which targets visible minorities often times in low income communities, and even pop culture play a major role in the situation we find ourselves in today. Those are commonly discussed topics amongst Torontonians in relation to the ongoing dilemma. But is that ALL that’s going on? The fact of the matter is there’s more to this pandemic which we fail to realize. Before we get to that let’s rewind and discuss how the government and police have tried to tackle this problem and the role pop culture plays.
For those of you not from Toronto, gun violence has been on a steady rise since the 90’s with an escalation in homicide rates in the past decade. Statistics Canada, Toronto Police Services and politicians alike blame the increase in activity as the leading cause. (Berthiaume, 2018) But what exactly constitutes a ‘gang member’. Thinking back when I was a young teen I often hung around the same group of friends. We went to school together, played sports together, hung out after school, doing ordinary things teens do. We weren’t angels but we also weren’t gangsters. When we entered high school we kept the same close friendships while also being introduced to other groups of students who came from elementary schools in other areas to a bigger and more populated high school in Toronto. One of my close friends had a misunderstanding with another group of young males our age and it resulted in him being ‘jumped’ by a group of four or five of them. When my group of friends retaliated the following day we were referred to as a gang of hoodlums. My point is, we never considered ourselves as a gang nor had any intentions but when the police showed up to school that day we were treated as such. No criminal charges were pressed but we were expelled l. This ultimately led to our peers in and outside of school and within our community to perceive and treat us as gangsters and often times we were feared and seldomly messed with. Long story short, it’s often how society or authority perceive a situation and a group of people which can lead young and easily influenced minds down a wrong path in life. We see many examples of this in pop culture, more specifically related to Toronto since Drake hit the music scene and brought Toronto to the forefront of the Hip Hop industry. Several incidents of local rappers with connections to Drake have been the targets of shootings with two separate incidents claiming the lives of two up-and-coming local rappers. Now, I’m not blaming Drake for this occurrence but what I am trying to get at is the influence that our neighbours south of the border have when it comes to pop culture and gun control. Toronto, being Canada’s most populated city, provides a large demand for the sale of gun on the black market. The lax guns laws in the US and our much stricter regulations makes us an obvious market for those involved in illegal activities. Throughout my years in a gang I had known several individuals with connections to gangs in the US who would transport stolen and illegally obtained firearms from Michigan. Though significant, this does not account for the underlying causes for gun violence. Bear with me as we examine another aspect affecting our community today.
While it’s easy to blame someone else for our problems, it’s important to also consider the influences from in and around Toronto to narrow down our causes and solutions. The provincial and municipal Toronto government have attempted an array of tactics to curb gun violence. In 1995, then Ontario premier Mike Harris, cut social assistance and dissolved community supports within Toronto. The following decade seen an explosion in gun violence. 2005 was dubbed “Summer of the Gun”, leading local leaders to refer to the shooters as ‘Mike’s Kids’, since they had been the generation directly affected by his policy changes. Dalton McGuinty, who was Mike Harris’s successor replaced the policy with an initiative which saw more funding going towards youth programs but the community volunteer workers were quickly overwhelmed, burnt out and the money used for the programs dried up. 2006 was the year Toronto police chief Bill Blair introduced the Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy (TAVIS). This program brought about carding and harassment of community members while the federal government under Stephen Harper increased the mandatory minimum sentences for gun related crimes. This created a drift between the neighbourhoods affected by gun violence and the police. The distrust between the two created barriers and tension and resulted in the worst year of gun violence in Toronto in 2007. (Price, 2018) It’s clear that the issues which plague our community cannot be fixed with a broad brush. In my opinion, the policies brought forth, all lack insight and knowledge into gang activity, culture, and the community. So what can be done to ensure a strong and safe Toronto? Let’s take a look at the root causes which are often overlooked by policy makers and officials.
If Torontonians want to bring about change, then we need to exemplify that change ourselves. Racism, inequality, housing, poverty and job opportunity are all closely linked and related to the violence happening within our city. We hear it day after day on the news, social media, even across the world in other nations. We know the impacts of racism and inequality through well documented American history. And although we often think of ourselves as better than that, and distanced from it, are we really? As Canadians we think of ourselves as polite, accepting and courteous. Sadly, this is a stereotype in which we view ourselves, it is not an accurate depiction of who and what we are based on our actions. Toronto has many low-income housing communities who experience high unemployment rates. This causes stress and tension within households and leads to high risks being taken for small gains. These communities are often times targets of police leading to limited community-police relations due to the distrust. The tipping point came in 2016 when a young black male named Defonte Miller was brutally attacked and beaten by two off-duty police officers just outside of Toronto in the Durham region. (Mitchell, 2018) Unfortunately more instances have sporadically popped up with the assistance of cellphone and vehicle dash cam footage. In order for Toronto to contain the madness spreading across the region we need to evaluate closely the communities affected. No one policy will fix this. Policies, regulations and over policing will not stop racism until our elected officials take the matter seriously. More blood will be spilled on Toronto streets until officials address wage equality, rehabilitation for youth involved in gangs and criminal activity and until community programs geared towards low income families are implemented accordingly.
They say a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. If that’s the case then we need to strengthen impoverished communities and build up our trust and relations as equal members in society. As a troubled youth and young adult myself, I often found myself frustrated when reading news article related to crime and gangs within Toronto. I felt misunderstood and often times angered by society’s perception and quick-to-judge rhetoric. I was labelled as a gangster, treated as one and therefore accepted my fate of living under those circumstances. Fortunately I was able to turn my life around but not until after my best friend had been murdered in the Danforth area of Toronto. Do we all need to lose a loved one in order to see things clearly for what they are? Change is brought about by trying something new, which with the right plan, will bring about positive results. As a society we need to engage with each other as well as the community, we need instances which bring us together instead of divide us apart. It’s only once we begin to understand one another and accept each other that we will begin to see our community flourish once again.
I hope this podcast brought some insight and a different perspective on gun violence in Toronto and remember, nothing changes if nothing changes. Until next time, I’m Srdjan Soso, here to make a difference and I hope you are too.
Berthiaume, L., (2018, November 21). Statistics Canada blames gang violence, shootings as homicide rate hits 10-year high. CTV. Retrieved from https://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/statistics-canada-blames-gang-violence-shootings-as-homicide-rate-hits-10-year-high-1.4186494
Mitchell, J., (2019 June 1). Trial for Toronto cop, brother accused in Dafonte Miller assault case set for next February. The Toronto Star. Retrieved from https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2018/06/01/trial-for-toronto-cop-brother-accused-in-dafonte-miller-assault-case-set-for-next-february.html
Price, N., (2018, August 6) Toronto’s history of gun violence: a vicious cycle of missteps, intransigence and bad policy. NowToronto. Retrieved from https://nowtoronto.com/news/gun-violence/
Tissot, Benjamin. All That. n.d.. https://www.bensound.com/royalty-free-music/track/all-that-chill-hop