BY PATRICK HUNTER
On the eve of the 2007 elections, Premier Dalton McGuinty pulled the proverbial rabbit-out-of-the-hat trick to appease a community that was badly shaken by the violence among our youth. We needed help to steer our young people away from the violence that appeared to be taking root and appealed to our political leaders for action.
“Okay,” one can imagine the Premier saying, “Let’s study it.”
So, in spite of the community’s almost-united opposition to another study, the Premier asked former Chief Justice Roy McMurtry and former House Speaker, Alvin Curling, to co-chair a review of the roots of youth violence.
Now, bear in mind that the Black community in Toronto has been studied and reported on many times over the years. As some put it, the number of reports would easily match the height of a desk – some would say higher. Nevertheless, McMurtry and Curling completed their report and presented it to the Premier. Surprisingly for many, the report, The Review of the Roots of Youth Violence, was substantial and called for some quick action by the Premier.
In fairness to all the reports that had been done before, there was not a great deal that was new in the findings of the McMurtry/Curling review. That was one of the major concerns and opposition to “yet another study”. The fact is, with the election of Mike Harris, many of the initiatives that could conceivably have prevented this violent path were reversed. But to give it due credit, the Review was well written and, more importantly, reinforced many of the findings and recommendations of previous reports.
It would not be fair to try to summarize the five-volume report in a couple of paragraphs, and I will not try. But, a couple of key “roots” are worth mentioning if only to demonstrate that the Review was a genuine attempt to present some clear options to the Premier that would, at least, begin to get at the heart of the problem.
The first one identified is poverty. While the authors clearly identified that poverty does not directly cause violent crime, “Poverty without hope, poverty with isolation, poverty with hunger and poor living conditions, poverty with racism and poverty with numerous daily reminders of social exclusion can lead to the immediate risk factors for violence…”.
Other elements of the roots of youth violence which McMurtry and Curling identified included racism, community design, issues in the education system, family issues, health, lack of a youth voice, lack of economic opportunity for youth and issues in the justice system.
Among some of its recommendations, the Review called for the creation of a Cabinet Committee on Social Inclusion and Anti-Racism which would oversee a coordinated structure among ministries that would develop and implement programs to address these “roots”. In all, there were a dozen recommendations directed at the Premier followed by a number of specific suggestions to, as it were, start the ball rolling.
One would think that having given this kind of attention to creating the review, particularly given the calibre of the persons appointed to conduct it, the Premier would have given it some attention.
To date, neither a cabinet committee responding to the suggestions in the Review has been announced, nor is there a coordinating body, for that matter. In fact, there has not been much, if anything, said about the Review since it was presented to the Premier. If there was an announcement, everyone would have heard about it because it would have been politically advantageous to make a noise about it.
We have since had an election and, to my knowledge, there were no discussions about the non-implementation of the report during the campaign. It wasn’t, I daresay, even on the radar for any of the political parties. In other words, holding the government accountable about this matter was not a priority for either the Progressive Conservatives or the New Democratic Party. Nor was there any attempt, it would seem, that anyone in our community brought the matter up during the campaign.
Once again, our community was handed an empty box of promises.
The other troubling matter is that now that the Drummond Report, which calls for drastic cuts in government expenditure, has been put forward, the possibility that the recommendations in the Review – or any initiative which would attack the roots of the identified problems – will be addressed is now much more remote.
It should become frightfully obvious by now that the African-Canadian community has little or no influence with the government or, for that matter, the opposition parties. There is no organizational voice to advocate on behalf of the community without fear of reprisals.
So, what is the solution? We need to become more engaged in what is going on around us. We have not been very involved in the political party apparatus as was clearly evident at the recent NDP leadership convention. Yes, we have been presenting more candidates but voting performance of our community leaves much to be desired. More importantly, we have talked about it for years, but we still have not developed our own capacity to maintain a constant watch over affairs that affect us and to challenge those issues that work against us. We have a lot of work to do and, it should be clear that relying on others to do that work, or the good nature of others, is not a viable plan.