The truth hurts. In fact it stings most deeply when it cuts at one's tender liberal sensibilities. Toronto City Councillor, Gord Perks, learned this first hand on Wednesday during a Toronto City Council debate that saw his and the City of Toronto's position on gun violence inadvertently exposed for its significant limitations.
The motion being debated concerned whether to exempt city-owned Exhibition Place from by-laws banning any event that promotes firearms on city property, a change that was being sought, in part, to allow the Toronto Sportsmen's Show to be hosted at this venue which it called home for 62 years before the gun by-laws took effect in 2010. Councillman Perks opposed the exemption in the name of supporting the city's stance against ongoing gun violence which has been crippling some of Toronto's marginalized neighbourhoods.
Supporting the exemption was City Councillor Josh Colle, who represents the predominantly black, under-sourced and gun-plagued community of Lawrence Heights. Seeing through Perks' noble posturing, Colle characterized Perks' position as disingenuous, ultimately shooting it down by dropping this:
"[Some of my constituents] see this as a debate that makes downtown...I hate to say it...white people feel better that they've done something, when they're suffering from this gun violence day after day."
How did Perks respond to being called out? By telling Colle to "fuck off," later saying that he took offence at the reference to white people. Perks promptly apologized for his choice of words and the motion rightfully passed with 19 votes for, and 11 against, the exemption. By that point, however, the cat had already left the bag, as an uncomfortable truth about the city's fight against guns had been revealed -- a truth that cannot be f-bombed away.
As tough as it is to face, the truth is that too many of the Toronto's policies targeting guns and gang violence have been of little more than symbolic value, and of minimal effect in the communities most closely affected by this urban scourge. That's not to say that the whole thrust of the community development and empowerment initiatives launched in the wake of the infamous "Summer of the Gun" have been a failure, however. In fact, many have been laudable and effective in combating gun violence, creating greater socio-economic opportunities, and helping to build stronger character in young people and their families so as to decrease the lure of street life and gang-banging, which effectively necessitate the use or access to a handgun.
That being said, I point out the above to highlight that in a drive to appear as though he remained committed to combatting gun violence, the Toronto's previous mayor, David Miller, seems to have misdirected some of his policies at legal gun users rather than at criminals who've high-jacked communities through the traffic and use of illegal firearms that have no place in the city's streets.
While I don't doubt the former mayor's genuine and profound commitment to fighting this problem when he was in office, the problem is that the passing of symbolic policies on this issue is not only deeply offensive to the community members who have to live in constant fear of impending gun violence, but it is also deadly.
Gliding on the inertia of some of these pseudo anti-gun by-laws, Rob Ford is running a Toronto where shootings for 2012 are now reported to be up more than 54.7 per cent over since the same period in 2011. In fact, Toronto Police crime statistics are reported to indicate that there have been 82 shootings so far in 2012, whereas at this time last year there were 53. Worse still, the same report claims that at this point in 2011 there were 58 victims of shootings, but now, we stand at a shocking 104 shooting victims in Toronto since the beginning of 2012, a 79.3 per cent increase. And that's not counting the murder took place less than 24 hours after the above mentioned Council debate on the by-law exemption.
There's very little to indicate that Mayor Ford sees curbing gun violence in the city's disadvantaged communities as a priority. But as his time in office sees a resurgent climb in gun violence, it is my sincerest hope that Ford will learn from Miller's misstep, and make better policy decisions that sustainably combat not only gun violence, but also the underlying social, political and economic factors that make guns, gangs and drugs appealing, and overly accessible options in some of the city's most dispossessed communities.
Of course, doing all this takes considerable and varied resources, of the most important, money.
My suggestion? Let's start with the $1.1 billion gross annual revenue that the city-owned Exhibition Place reportedly stands to gain from allowing this anti-gun law exemption.
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