Scarborough has been in the news lately for all the wrong reasons. Now is a good time to take a step back from the hyperbole surrounding last week’s shooting and put this part of Toronto in perspective, in support of a place I love and serve.
Scarborough is on the leading edge of Toronto’s march toward greater cultural and economic diversity.
The neighbourhoods and communities that make up Scarborough are Toronto’s most ethnically diverse, including people from South Asia, Asia, the Caribbean, Europe, Africa, the Philippines, the Middle East, the British Isles and just about everywhere else on the globe. Scarborough is mostly free from the cultural frictions such diversity often engenders, making it a harbinger of Toronto’s future. Diversity works in Scarborough.
Scarborough has the same problems as other areas with priority neighbourhoods and at-risk youth.
Youth gun violence has taken place in a variety of Toronto neighbourhoods – Jane-Finch, downtown, Lawrence Heights, Etobicoke. What happened in Scarborough last week is just the latest manifestation. While we must take preventative action, we must also avoid knee-jerk reactions and take the time to develop effective solutions.
Much of the youth crime in Scarborough and elsewhere in Toronto can be connected to an ill-conceived and chronically underfunded public-housing strategy, combined with a shortage of community-based resources.
A large portion of Toronto’s public housing was created by the province and dumped on the city during amalgamation, beginning in 1998. It was designed around an old, now discredited model that ghettoized poverty in large housing projects – a model that has created intractable problems nearly everywhere it’s been tried. It tends to institutionalize poverty and create a culture of chronic dependency, despair and often violence. Toronto’s public housing problem has been compounded by the downloading of an aging property inventory without providing sufficient funding to maintain or improve it. Significantly, Scarborough has the largest pool of public housing units in the city.
Without jobs there is little hope.
Gang membership can be an attractive option for young people with little hope of finding meaningful work. Any effective program to fight poverty-related crime must include employment opportunities and job training. Toronto’s new work force development strategy, announced in February, aims to bring the public and private sectors together to reinvigorate the city’s job market. Providing employment opportunities for young people in at-risk neighbourhoods is an important element in this strategy.
There are no quick or simple solutions to a problem that has developed over generations.
Broken families, a lack of jobs and chronic poverty are among the numerous factors that provide fertile ground for gangs, drugs and violence. The 2008 Review of the Roots of Youth Violence report, commissioned by the province and prepared by Roy McMurtry and Alvin Curling, identifies many of these conditions and makes thoughtful and comprehensive recommendations. I suggest that the province revisit this report and take further steps to implement it. I also suggest that the province work with Toronto to bolster the city’s priority neighbourhoods initiative, which has achieved some success but will soon be starved of funding.
It is a mistake to define a neighbourhood by random acts of violence.
Scarborough is made up of thousands of good people who are proud of their community and ready to help others in need. Each Christmas, the call goes out for volunteers to assemble food baskets for needy families. Each year, hundreds of volunteers respond, including scores of young people. With their help, more than 300 families receive a month’s worth of food.
When the Taste of Lawrence festival takes over Lawrence Avenue each summer, hundreds of thousands of residents and visitors take to the street in peace to sample international food, enjoy carnival rides and concerts and absorb the vibe of our celebrated diversity.
This is the Scarborough I know, the place where I live and the community that I am proud to represent.
Michael Thompson is Toronto city councillor for Scarborough Centre, Ward 37. He is chair of the city’s economic development and culture committee and vice-chair of the Toronto Police Services Board.