This is one of those times when it would be great to have a mayor who is not a complete simpleton. Because now, amid a wave of gun violence and gun-related deaths in Toronto, is a time when you want to focus on something besides the inadequacy of the mayor. You want to focus on grieving as a city, and on taking stock of what we’re doing well to remain safe and where we’re failing. You want a rational discussion that acknowledges the sadness, anger, and fear, but also moves beyond raw emotion to attempt to find insight.
But no one has ever accused our mayor of being insightful. And his compulsive need to open his mouth and demonstrate his thoughtlessness and ignorance winds up consuming the political discussion. I don’t want to waste time deconstructing Mayor Rob Ford’s recent parade of idiocy. Suffice it to say it involved a denial that gun violence is a problem, followed by a cowboy vow to run the thugs “out of town,” and a public warning to the premier that the provincial government better hand over $10 million for more police and not try invoking any “hug-a-thug” nonsense about social programs. “Money talks and BS walks and I’m not going to sit there and listen to some BS, and some reports, and yada yada,” he said. When the premier politely declined to provide any new money for more police, Ford called that a “huge victory.”
It appears, actually, that BS does not walk; it drives a brand new Cadiallac Escalade. But let’s talk, for a moment, about money and reports and yada yada. Because we all agree that people who shoot other people should be locked up in jail. That’s the easy part, and that’s the part Chief Bill Blair is confident he can accomplish with the resources he has. But that alone will not prevent similar shootings by new gun-toting gang members in the future. Punishing offenders is not the issue. As Blair says, “You can’t arrest your way out of some of these challenges.”
The hard part is preventing people from becoming gang members who carry guns and shoot other people. We need to figure out why people find that lifestyle more attractive than the alternatives—and that’ll be where the solution lies. There are no clear answers about what exactly those reasons are, and less clarity on how to solve them.
But we have lots of well-thought-out ideas. Justice Roy McMurtry and Dr. Alvin Curling studied this problem for the provincial government and issued a report-and-yada-yada in 2008 called “The Roots of Youth Violence.” They made sweeping, specific recommendations about addressing poverty, racism, neighbourhood strength, job opportunities, and police relations, among other things. Their report recognized this problem as being the by-product of a lot of other problems, but very few of their suggestions were implemented. Specifically, Curling recently said that key areas of the report targeting mental health, racism, and social inclusion have been completely ignored.
Of course, we don’t know how effective the solutions outlined in the report would be. But many of them would probably make the city a better place to live. And we do know that the specific solution Ford and the far more cynical federal government propose—acting tough and increasing the number and severity of punishments—have never been shown to work. (Hey, “War on Drugs,” how’s that going for you?) And if we want to tackle a complex problem caused by a variety of interwoven possible factors—poverty, lack of role models, racism, isolation in social housing, lack of job prospects, weak family and community structure, and psychiatric issues, just to name some of the most-invoked examples—we need to look at a complex set of solutions. The provincial report’s recommendations could be a place to start. There are volumes of other reports out there. If evidence is still lacking, we could study results even more as we proceed. It’s a big conversation, and one that a mayor sensitive to what’s at stake could be leading.
With his customary bravado, the mayor proclaimed on Monday, “I’m taking a very simplistic approach.” That is the problem, I’d suggest. And so instead of discussing these very complicated issues, we’re spending time discussing the mayor’s inadequacy. What a load of BS.