For the third time in the span of four weeks, a 15-year-old has been shot dead in a Toronto housing project.
Jarvis Montaque, a church-going teen with a reputation for staying inside his house and staying out of trouble, was watching the NBA all-star game at his Rexdale townhouse on Sunday evening. Shortly before 11 p.m., he and some friends went outside for a cigarette. The teens were standing on a footpath underneath a streetlight (the light wasn’t working) when a gunman approached and fired a shot into the teenager’s chest.
The bullet ended Jarvis’s life. He had emigrated from Jamaica two years earlier.
Toronto remains one of the continent’s safest big cities, on average. Yet the overarching crime statistics are scant consolation for those who live in Toronto Community Housing Corp. projects, where long-term residents have become all but inured to shocking episodes of gun violence.
Places such as Rexdale’s Jamestown Crescent – “Doomstown” some residents call it – where dozens of young men have been slain long before the killing of Jarvis Montaque.
“We are extremely saddened that another senseless act of gun violence has claimed the life of a young person in one of our communities,” Toronto Community Housing’s leaders Gene Jones and Bud Purves said in a statement circulated Monday. (Mr. Jones responded to e-mail messages but declined to comment directly.)
Places such as the Jane-Finch corridor, where 15-year-old St. Aubyn Rodney was shot dead in his apartment on Feb. 11.
“We are deeply saddened by last night’s shooting,” said Mr. Jones, the TCHC chief executive, and Mr. Purves, the chair, in a joint statement circulated after that shooting.
Places such as downtown’s Regent Park, where a 15-year-old Tyson Bailey was shot in a stairwell near his apartment on Jan. 18.
“We are extremely saddened to hear of this tragic loss of life,” the two TCHC leaders said in a statement circulated at that time.
Spates of gun violence in Toronto violence have spawned debate on the causes and solutions, including policing, parenting, street gangs, gun laws, and even and TV and music culture.
The latest episodes – three young men slain within four weeks, all before they were old enough to apply for drivers’ licences – may turn the focus of debate toward public housing. While the City of Toronto’s housing projects are home to about about 6 per cent of the population, they have been the site of three out of eight of the year’s homicides to date.
Later this week, Toronto City Councillor Josh Matlow will bring a bring a motion calling for a youth violence strategy that would involve community hubs for recreation and the arts and programs to familiarize families with community supports.
In an interview he said has been been working on the motion for weeks and had hoped to bring it forward “at a time when we weren’t in the aftermath of another tragedy.” But, “It’s horribly difficult to find that moment,” he said. “It keeps happening over and over again.”
Mr. Jones, the TCHC official, was quoted saying “we have a no-gun policy” shortly after he took his job. That was in the summer of 2012. At that time, two people had just been killed and 20 people injured during a shooting at a Scarborough housing project.
Jarvis Montaque’s family was too grief stricken for words yesterday, when approached by a reporter at the family’s home on Jamestown Crescent.
“Now is not a good time,” said one of his sisters politely, but firmly, as she shut a briefly opened door.
Police are still looking for a shooter – and any possible motive. Many residents of the neighbourhood said Sunday that they didn’t know the boy, and that they hadn’t heard or seen anything.
Counter staff at the neighbourhood grill, the Blue Sky Bar and Restaurant, did know Jarvis and said he wasn’t like the other kids – that he mostly walked between school and home with a younger sister. He had no time for loitering around or hanging out. And if he ordered food, it was only to bring it home to eat.
A middle-aged family friend, a reggae D.J. who identified himself only as “Sammy,” said that Jarvis’s family, which includes his parent and several sisters, hail from Manchester Parish, Jamaica, where they still spent their summers.
“This kid is not a bad kid,” Sammy said. “He just goes to school and comes back home. It’s unfair – he’s not in a gang.”
With a report from Sunny Dhillon
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story said TCHC official Gene Jones was to hold a public meeting Tuesday night. That meeting was cancelled Monday morning.