POLITICS

Police alone can't stop gun violence in Toronto: politicians, community leaders

07/19/2012 04:00 EDT | Updated 09/17/2012 05:12 EDT
TORONTO - Tougher laws and increased police presence alone won't curb a wave of violence that has shocked Toronto in recent days, community leaders and politicians said Thursday as police began laying charges in a fatal shootout at a community block party.

"I think we need to take a pause and ask ourselves what more we might do," Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said during a news conference in Ottawa.

"I don't pretend to have any quick and easy answer for you, and I don't know anybody who does."

McGuinty's comments came as Toronto residents struggled to come to terms with violence that erupted at a block party in a diverse community in the city's east end.

Gunmen opened fire at the outdoor party, killing 14-year-old Shyanne Charles and Joshua Yasay, 23, and sending 23 others to hospital with gunshot injuries.

Police announced an arrest in the case Thursday, charging Nahom Tsegazab, 19, with reckless discharge of a firearm.

McGuinty will meet with Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and Police Chief Bill Blair next Monday to discuss ways to prevent similar violent incidents in the future. Community leaders insist it's imperative they be part of the bigger conversation about gun violence in Canada's largest city.

In advance of Monday's meeting, McGuinty has planned a to visit the neighbourhood where the shooting occurred on Friday.

McGuinty will visit the East Scarborough Boys and Girls Club on Galloway Road to meet with local community leaders who are involved with violence prevention and youth engagement, a spokeswoman said.

Ford has already weighed in on the issue by announcing his intention to appeal to Ottawa for immigration reform that would see those convicted of gun crimes banished from the city.

Ford has called for a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper to discuss tougher gun and immigration laws.

"I'm going to sit down with the prime minister and find out how our immigration laws work," Ford told Arlene Bynon of talk radio station AM640. "Obviously I have an idea, but whatever I can do to get 'em out of the city I'm going to. Regardless of if they have family or friends, I don't want these people, if they're convicted of a gun crime, to have anything to do with the city of Toronto."

Andrew MacDougall, a spokesman for Harper, said the prime minister's office is "working on scheduling" a meeting with Ford.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, meanwhile, took to Twitter on Thursday to agree with Ford that gangsters convicted of gun crimes should be run out of Toronto.

"I agree w/ Mayor Ford: foreign gangsters should be deported w/out delay," he tweeted.

Kenney's office did not respond to a request for an explanation as to why the minister appears to assume those involved in Monday's deadly shooting are not Canadian citizens.

MacDougall declined to comment on Kenney's tweet.

Margaret Parsons with the African Canadian Legal Clinic said too many black youth are dying in fatal shootings and the solution is community-building, not increased policing.

"African-Canadians continue to be primary victims of gun violence in the city of Toronto and no one seems to care," Parsons said at a community meeting at an east Toronto recreation centre.

"Turning our communities into quasi-military zones by deploying 200 cops isn't the long term answer either. The answer is stringent and effective gun control and measures to stop the flow of guns into the hands of our youth."

Community leaders worry that without swift action, there will be retaliation and more bloodshed.

Donna Harrow, a community worker who attended the meeting Thursday, got emotional as she described the systematic problems affecting black youth.

"We need to look at young people and look at the ways in which they have been taught to be unsuccessful in this city," she said, her voice breaking.

"We have a group of young people who are not thinking about post-secondary education. They're thinking about how they get their next $10 and sometimes it's not the best choices that are made," she said.

Community leaders said the government should continue to fund youth programs and urged them to implement the recommendations from a 2008 provincial report by former Ontario Superior Justice Roy McMurtry on youth violence prevention. The group said none of the 27 recommendations in the report have been put in place.

Alvin Curling, co-author of the report, said the city needs to focus on how to make gang life less appealing to youth by presenting better alternatives.

The former member of the provincial legislature said it's clear that youth violence is rooted in poverty issues.

"We found that this was a widespread problem," said Curling. "We found that Ontario was at a crossroads ... The fact is that when we have an economical problem it affects everyone."

Community consultant Ken Jeffers fears that the recent shootings are "inciting hatred" in the communities.

"(Youth have) lost hope or are losing hope," said Jeffers. "We all love this city and people in this city but we can't continue like this. It's got to change."

Last month, Ontario's Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services Madeleine Meilleur sent a letter to the federal government calling for a ban on handguns.

"We are doing all we can at the provincial level to fight this growing threat to our communities," the letter read.

The letter was sent in response to a rash of high-profile shootings that touched off a particularly violent summer in the city.

Two men were killed on June 2 when a gunman opened fire in the food court of the Toronto Eaton Centre, one of Toronto's most popular shopping destination.

Weeks later, shots rang out in broad daylight as patrons gathered in the city's Little Italy neighbourhood to watch a Eurocup soccer match. One man was killed.

Four people have died of gun violence this week alone, including the victim's of Monday's incident, Toronto police said.