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Tanasha Smith says the unsolved murder of her 15-year-old half brother Jarvis Montaque has destroyed her family. (Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail)
Tanasha Smith says the unsolved murder of her 15-year-old half brother Jarvis Montaque has destroyed her family. (Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail)

crime

At Toronto Community Housing, a history of violence Add to ...

It took all of 15 minutes for Tanasha Smith to get from Brampton to Rexdale, but it felt like the longest drive of her life.

It was Family Day, a year ago this weekend, and she was racing to the public-housing project on Jamestown Crescent where she grew up. When she got there, she found her mother Melda, a Jamestown resident for 20 years, bawling. A toddling nephew, too innocent to grasp the gravity of what he was saying, kept repeating the news over and over.

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“Jarvis is dead,” he said. “Jarvis is dead.”

Jarvis Montaque, 15, had been shot dead on the doorstep, just moments after he had stepped outside. A half-brother from Jamaica, Jarvis had joined the Toronto family only a couple of years before.

Shootings can be part of life in some of Toronto’s housing projects – and while growing up in Jamestown, Ms. Smith has been close to homicide investigations before.

Years earlier, she had even been on the fringes of a group who persuaded an eyewitness to one of the Crescent’s killings into testifying at a trial. She thought she had left all that behind years ago.

Today, she is embittered by her half-brother’s unsolved case – and the lack of attention it gets. “Our family doesn’t get involved in guns, gangs and anything like that,” said Ms. Smith, a 34-year-old child and youth worker in a Toronto-area high school.

She wonders, though, if the public sees it that way. “The first thing is to blame where he lives, and think ‘He’s probably a gangster, and he deserves it, and let’s move on,’” she said. “No one cares – It’s just another black boy dead.”

Toronto Community Housing Corporation Security Report No. 434071 logs last year’s slaying of Jarvis Montaque as a murder.

More than 155 such victims have been similarly registered by the TCHC over the past 10 years, according to a long list of homicides on or near properties, or involving people from the properties.

The Globe and Mail obtained the decade’s worth of logs of murders – this is the term used – from a TCHC security database through a freedom of information request.

The homicides logged by the TCHC between 2003 and 2013 is just one stark measure of the problem. To put the overall number in perspective, 158 Canadian soldiers were killed in Afghanistan during a similar time span.

Statistically, Toronto remains one of North America’s safest cities. But not all neighbourhoods share in the peace equally.

Only 6 per cent of the city’s population lives in public housing, but last year, police publicly released statistics saying that in 2011, 22 per cent of the city’s homicides and 35 per cent of its shootings took place on or around TCHC properties.

The released logs of murders, as input by the agency’s own security guards, give added insights to this violence. The information was released to The Globe with victims’ identities and circumstances of the crimes redacted. But most of the listed dates and addresses corresponded with crimes that had been in the news. The Globe counted at least 155 victims.

An analysis showed that most of the victims are killed in shootings – and most of them are young. The median age of the victims appears to be around 26. But last year, five minors were shot dead in public housing properties, including a 15- and a 16-year-old who were gunned down together as three killers fled the scene on bikes.

Too often the carnage comes back to the same places: The crimes cluster around Lawrence Heights (at least eight homicides in the past 10 years), downtown’s Regent Park (10 homicides), Etobicoke’s Jamestown Crescent (14 homicides) and nearby Jane and Finch (20 homicides).

“I wouldn’t raise my kids in metro housing. It breeds a certain mentality,” said Mike Hinds, an outreach worker who rehabilitates gang members for a group called Breaking the Cycle.

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Manslaughter and murder logs from the Toronto Community Housing Corporation

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