By RON FANFAIR
Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair has lauded community activist Dudley Laws for his outspoken advocacy against senseless gun violence and pledged that his service will work with the Black Action Defence Committee (BADC), which Laws co-founded, and other African-Canadian groups to send a strong message that youth and gang-related firearm aggression is totally unacceptable.
Blair and deputy chief Keith Forde joined community leaders at an anti-gun violence rally and concert last Saturday afternoon at Queen’s Park.
“We have seen far too much violence in the city of Toronto and the violence is so often connected to poverty, unemployment, alienation, marginalization, lack of opportunity and lack of respect,” said Blair. “One of the things we must all commit together to do is to ensure that every young person in our city from every community, every culture and every faith tradition, is treated with dignity and respect and given the support that they need so that they might realize their full potential.”
Through the “Youth in Policing” program, the TPS is doing its part to reach out to young people in the city’s disenfranchised communities by presenting them with an opportunity to earn a wage and be productive citizens. The program is part of the Ontario government’s Youth Opportunities Strategy which was unveiled in 2006 by then Minister of Children and Youth Services, Mary Anne Chambers.
In the past three years, nearly 350 young people between the ages of 14 and 17 have been placed within various police divisions, units and bureaus for the summer.
The TPS is using the program to promote youth participation and exposure to the work environment through diverse educational and productive work assignments, enhance the links between the police and the communities they serve by selecting youth that reflect the culturally diverse communities, encourage safe and positive opportunities for young people who may be at risk during the summer and position the TPS as an organization of choice.
“These young people have come from our poorest communities and more than 90 per cent of them that are of colour come to work with us to, not only earn a wage, but also teach us about the potential of youths in our community,” said Blair who was recently elected president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police.
Blair praised Forde for taking the lead in working with the various communities to improve outcomes for young people and help them make positive contributions and using his position as Human Resources Command head to make the organization more reflective of the communities it serves.
“Keith personifies what is extraordinary about the force today because he has provided leadership to help us attract a diverse workforce and people from every culture and community,” he said. “He has also championed a number of causes that have created opportunities for young people.”
Blair acknowledged that the relationship between the police and the Black community has been fragile over the past few decades but said his organization is working hard to enhance the bond.
Several mothers, who have lost their sons to gun violence in the past few years, attended the BADC-organized event.
“I am always moved by the mothers who have come together through United Mothers Opposed to Violence Everywhere (UMOVE) and other community organizations to speak out against violence,” said Blair who will be the TPS chief until April 2015. “Mothers represent perhaps the best of our communities and they are most touched by the violence that has occurred. It’s the courage and the eloquence of the mothers who come out and remind us of the consequences of that violence that is so important.”
UMOVE founder Audette Shephard, whose son Justin was murdered eight years ago, said she will continue to champion the anti-violence movement and lobby for tougher gun control.
“Every time a child loses his life to senseless violence in our community, I get angry and I worry that a day might come when I might no longer be angry because that will mean that I don’t care,” said Shephard.
“I will continue to care for the rest of my life because nothing can compare with the love I had for my only child. He was an integral part of my life and when he died, part of me died too.”
Jamaican Canadian Association (JCA) president Audrey Campbell lamented the poor turnout and challenged the Black community to rally around BADC and other organizations who are demanding an end to gun violence.
“We had close to 1,000 people showing up at the JCA late at night during the week to see Usain Bolt when he was in town last June,” she said. “Here we have an event focusing on a scourge in the society we live in and we just have a handful of people. Sometimes I wonder about our priorities.”
Share columnist Murphy Browne also spoke at the rally that featured several local performers, including reggae artists Exco Levy, Rakhiya, Josh Burnett and Wally Rich.