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A condo/ apartment complex on Dixon Rd. between Kipling and Islington Ave. in the north west area of Toronto houses the many new immigrants who now call Toronto home. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)
A condo/ apartment complex on Dixon Rd. between Kipling and Islington Ave. in the north west area of Toronto houses the many new immigrants who now call Toronto home. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)

The neighbourhood at the centre of the Ford controversy: Guns, gangs and second chances Add to ...

Twelve-year-old Sharmarke Hassan remembers Mr. Smith. He taught the youngster basketball skills and would often buy Popsicles for the kids. Born in Toronto, Sharmarke spent five years living in Somalia, returning in 2011. He is happy to be back. He says there is less gun violence in Dixon than in Somalia.

Dixon is “a good place,” Sharmarke insists. “We can live here. You can play basketball, and there is no screaming and shooting and stuff.”

Some nights in the neighbourhood are a different story. The recent deaths of several Canadian-Somali men in Toronto have prompted police to set up a two-officer task force focused on improving relations with the community. Canadian-Somali leaders have urged gang members to put down their guns and have called for more after-school programs and recreation. Finishing high school has been a struggle for many Canadian-Somali boys, and unemployment rates are high.

“The parents are the main key for kids,” says Mohamed Elmi, 27, who runs Istar restaurant with his mother, Ms. Mohamed. “I’m thankful to my mom, because if it wasn’t for her keeping me busy, I would be on the same road as the other guys went to.”

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West on Dixon Road at a strip mall at Kipling, Mustaf Haile, 36, sits in a Country Style coffee shop filled with about a dozen older men swapping stories.

Mr. Haile was a teenager when he moved to Dixon from Mogadishu with several cousins in 1990, attending high school with Canadian-Somali rapper K’naan. The Canadian-Somali community was much smaller then. It took time for Mr. Haile to adjust to a new language and culture. He feels welcome in Dixon now.

Mr. Haile, who fixes computers for a living, says he sometimes sees Councillor Ford at the coffee shop. The municipal politician will often stop to talk to customers. Mr. Haile believes the Fords have been good for Dixon and the mayor has been good for Toronto. Even if the crack-cocaine video surfaces and proves to be true, Mr. Haile is prepared to forgive.

“We support [the mayor]. This whole area supports him,” Mr. Haile asserts. “People make mistakes. I have made mistakes in my life. There is always forgiveness.”

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