It is indeed unfortunate that it had to take ‘the worst mass shooting in Toronto’s history’ to get provincial politicians seriously focused enough to take action on a report on how to stem such violence – a report that had until now languished after it was first made public in 2008.
“The Review of the Roots of Youth Violence”, which came in the wake of the so-called ‘summer of the gun’, included comprehensive recommendations that read as an action plan checklist to steer at-risk youth away from choices that culminate in the kind of gun violence that resulted in the mass shooting at a community barbecue in July that left 21 wounded and led to the deaths of 14-year-old Danzig Street resident Shyanne Charles and recently graduated York University student Joshua Yasay, 23.
The families of those who suffered terrible loss that fateful day in July may consider government response to be too late, but the conditions that foster gang violence are not going away, so any effort to combat it has to be seen as a step in the right direction.
Toward that end, the provincial government has announced $20-million in program funding aimed at deterring youth from taking the often-fatal path into gang activity. Of the amount, $5-million is already earmarked for TAVIS (Toronto Anti-violence Intervention Strategy) and its provincial counterpart, PAVIS (Provincial Anti-violence Intervention Strategy).
Announcement of the funding was made by Ontario’s Minister of Children & Youth Services, Dr. Eric Hoskins, at a news conference which was also attended by Minister of Community Safety and Social Services, Madeleine Meilleur and MPP Margarett Best, in whose Guildwood riding the Danzig shooting incident occurred.
We are relieved that the provincial government has made this commitment, yet must ask what took them so long? There have been numerous incidents of youth gang violence followed by studies and recommendations that have gone nowhere, each one with the same urgency, given the incidents that precipitated them. As far back as 1992, for example, there was the landmark report on youth unrest and anti-Black racism by Stephen Lewis in the wake of the so-called Yonge Street riot.
We understand that over a one-month period after the Danzig Street tragedy, government officials met with families and youth, social services and community organizations and consulted with representatives from education, justice and business.
Of course, all they needed to do was look to the Roots of Youth Violence report co-chaired by former Ontario Chief Justice Roy McMurtry and retired politician Alvin Curling.
Hoskins has said specifically that the report will serve as the ‘foundation’ for the plan of action to which the funding is attached. That includes expanding the summer employment program for youth in the city’s challenged neighbourhoods to provide 320 new after-school jobs during the school year, and an additional 440 part-time jobs next year. He has also promised more parenting and family literacy centres, the hiring of an additional 35 youth outreach workers across the province and expanding the Youth in Policing Initiative (YIPI) with half of the new spaces going to youth in Toronto.
Another positive aspect of the initiative is including the input of youth in the ongoing process of recognizing and appropriately responding to the needs of target communities. Making sure that young people have a stake in the development of their communities and feel empowered in making those changes is exactly what is needed to make these initiatives work.
We want to therefore encourage those who are heading these initiatives to constantly keep this aspect at the forefront of their interactions with community youth, because the sense that they otherwise have no personal power in their lives leads them to seek it in other, sometimes deadly, forms.
We are also encouraged by the fact that this new government initiative has also brought Curling on board to ensure that the report’s recommendations are adhered to and that funding goes where it is most needed – to the youth.
This is a good move by the province although it should have come much earlier. However, as the saying goes, better late than never.