Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty is cautioning government leaders and lawmakers not to resort to “simplistic” solutions to tackle a recent spate of gun violence in Canada’s most populous city.
Mr. McGuinty said he is open to Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s push to hire more police officers to patrol the city’s streets. But that is only part of what should be a more balanced response, he said, criticizing Mr. Ford for not embracing more social programs that reach out to young people.
Mr. Ford made it clear this week that he will be asking Mr. McGuinty to provide provincial funding for more police officers, not more social programs. He does not believe “hug-a-thug” programs curb gun crime.
“That’s short-sighted and it reflects a lack of understanding that this is a complicated problem,” Mr. McGuinty told reporters on Friday, following a meeting with community members at the East Scarborough Boys and Girls Club, about two kilometres from Danzig Street where the brazen shooting took place on Monday evening that left two people dead and 23 injured.
Until this summer, when Torontonians were rocked by a string of fatal shootings at a food court in a shopping mall, an outdoor cafe in broad daylight and most recently a block party, the city was headed in the right direction with crime rates steadily decreasing, Mr. McGuinty said.
He attributed that success to a concerted effort made by everyone – all three levels of government, the police and those who work on the front lines with young people.
“It didn’t just appear magically,” Mr. McGuinty said.
A series of high-level brainstorming sessions to examine what measures should be put in place to help decrease gun violence will begin on Monday, when Mr. McGuinty meets with Mr. Ford and Police Chief Bill Blair at the provincial legislature. Mr. McGuinty said he expects someone from the federal government to also attend. Prime Minister Stephen Harper plans to meet with Mr. Ford later next week.
Mr. Ford said earlier this week he will push Mr. McGuinty at their meeting for a cash injection for the Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy, which sends police into priority neighbourhoods to seize guns, make arrests and build connections with locals. Mr. McGuinty said political leaders also need to look at the kinds of programs that reach out and engage young people. He has said he will consider extending the Youth Challenge Fund, which earmarked about $35-million for programs in 13 priority neighbourhoods, but runs out next year. The site of the shooting, an east-end community housing project near Lawrence Avenue East and Morningside Avenue, isn’t in one of the 13 neighbourhoods, but borders one.
Earlier this month, Mr. Ford cast the lone vote at council against more than 300 grants worth $16-million, some of which flow to those priority neighbourhoods. In June, he was the only member of council to vote against accepting $350,000 in federal money for an anti-gang program.
“This is a complex matter, it’s a tough nut to crack,” Mr. McGuinty said. “It’s something we’re all going to have to find a way to get our arms around. I think we’ve got to beware of simplistic, short-sighted solutions.”
Mr. McGuinty’s government has also reiterated its call for a federal ban on handguns. The Premier said this is an important part of the solution, because it sends a signal that Canada has a different culture than those countries, including the United States, where handguns are tolerated.
“But it’s hardly the be all and end all,” he said. “If you’re looking for quick fixes and magic and easy solutions, you’re not going to find them.”
While Mr. McGuinty was in Toronto’s east end, Mr. Ford was in Etobicoke, where he met with 10 leaders from the African Canadian community. Mr. Ford left the meeting without talking to reporters.
Margaret Parsons, executive director of the African Canadian Legal Clinic who organized the meeting, said afterward that the mayor had committed to coming back to the table with a larger group in response to the Danzig shooting.
“We may not have agreed on everything, particularly in terms of whether law enforcement is the most appropriate approach to take or the only approach to take,” Ms. Parsons said. “But I think that we have at least got him thinking about that.”
Social development is needed, said Ms. Parsons, who met with Chief Blair Thursday night. She said that discussion was focused more on immediate safety to stop retaliation following the Danzig shooting.
She said the group urged Mr. Ford to tone down his rhetoric, including language like “hug-a-thug” programs and “chase all these thugs out of our city.”
“He has to recognize that he’s the mayor for all, he’s a leader for every single Torontonian,” she said.
She said one thing everyone agreed on was the need for job-creation for youth in priority neighbourhoods. She said, however, that the mayor seemed to remain skeptical about spending money on youth engagement programs and that’s why there will be more discussions.
“Hopefully before we meet with him again we’ll be able to send him some data and some evidence to prove that these programs do work,” she said.
Federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney weighed in on the debate on talk radio Friday in response to Mr. Ford’s call to expel convicted gun criminals from Toronto.
“Obviously we can’t tell people which city they can or cannot live in,” Mr. Kenney told Newstalk 1010. “If someone’s a Canadian citizen and they’re convicted of a crime there’s nothing you can do to deport them because citizenship is irrevocable unless it was found that they obtained it fraudulently.”
Mr. Kenney touted his government’s proposal to speed up the deportation of foreigners convicted of serious crimes.
With a report from Kelly Grant