As Torontonians, we know that we live in a very safe city in a very safe country. According to Statistics Canada, “Even though there have been year-to-year fluctuations in Canada’s homicide rate, it has generally been declining over the last few decades. The rate of homicides in 2016 was 44 per cent lower than the peak rate recorded in 1975.”
In 2017, police reported 660 homicides, 48 more than the previous year. This represents a 7 per cent increase in the homicide rate from 1.69 homicides per 100,000 population in 2016 to 1.80 homicides per 100,000 population in 2017.
The increase in the national number of homicides is primarily the result of notably more homicides in British Columbia (+30) and Quebec (+26). In contrast, the largest decreases in the number of homicides were seen in Saskatchewan (-17) and Ontario (-10).
In January 2017, a mass shooting occurred at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebéc. The attack resulted in six homicides and 40 attempted murders (Perreaux 2018; Mathieu 2017). This incident accounts for increases in attempted murder rates not only for Québec City and the province of Quebec, but for the nation.
We know this is fact. But when horrible things happen to good people in the Quebec City mosque, on Yonge Street in North York, on patios on Danforth Avenue, our feelings of fear take over. We feel unsafe. We want it to stop. After the swearing-in of Bill Blair as the new Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recalled the conversation trying to recruit him as a candidate for MP, during which the former Chief of Police said, “The number one enemy of public security is fear.”
We need to be able to break down these horrible acts into their component parts in order to prevent them in the future. It’s what every family who has lost a loved one — or had a loved one changed forever by the incident — expects us to do. They want us to put in place concrete actions that will prevent this happening to another family.
Generally we are focused on best practices in policing and then three things: mental health support, guns and gangs.
We could see from the immediate police response on the Danforth that the recent increase in police presence was effective. The Yonge Street van attack and the shootings on the Danforth have raised our consciousness about the need to identify and better address those struggling with mental health issues.
Minister Blair now has the responsibility to increase the ability of the Canada Border Services Agency to focus on the passage of illegal guns coming over our borders.
But the carnage that is now happening all over Toronto from gang activity reminds me of the “Summer of the Gun” in 2005, when Mayor David Miller struck a special Community Safety Panel. John Godfrey, Jean Augustine and I, as Minister of State (Public Health), represented the federal government on the panel, serving with Attorney General Michael Bryant from the province, city councillors and members of the Mayor’s Youth Council, like the inspiring Kehinde Bah, and then-Chief of Police Bill Blair.
Chief Blair took us up to Jane and Finch, with the Mayor and Prime Minister Martin, where we were all able to listen to the youth. One told us that he never felt he belonged until he joined a gang. Another told us that he had never been told he was good at anything until he was complimented on his shoplifting abilities. All levels of government then worked together to put in place skills training programming and youth-led arts and sports programmes, in order for youth to have all their talents recognized and celebrated — to instil a pride in who they were and a sense of belonging.
In 2005, United Way Toronto released its groundbreaking Poverty by Postal Code report, and joined community leaders to tackle the growing concentration of poverty in Toronto’s inner suburban neighbourhoods. In response, the Building Strong Neighbourhoods Strategy (BSNS) was launched in 2006, and resulted in the City of Toronto Community Hubs.
As Saskatchewan Deputy Minister and former Prince Albert Police Chief Dale McPhee said to me last month at the AFN, we need fundamental change and “thinking differently” as he said, “We are not going to arrest our way out of this.” The hub concept of Community Mobilization, working collaboratively and not in isolation, is now evidence-based.
Just look again at the Stats Canada numbers cited above: “In contrast, the largest decreases in the number of homicides were seen in Saskatchewan (-17) and Ontario (-10)” — two provinces that have been prepared to “think differently.”
I look forward to working with all jurisdictions to tackle the “fear factor” and use evidence-based policies and programs to keep all our communities truly safe. I’m looking forward to discussing this at our Toronto-St. Paul’s Summit this fall.
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