The Toronto Star recently published a joint statement from several community organizations under the headline: “City’s summer of violence calls for community-based solutions”.
The statement was in response to the recent gun violence in our city and the reaction of our public servants, the different levels of government and the police service. It was a statement that needed to be made, and was reminiscent of the positions adopted by the Coalition of African Canadian Communities (the Coalition) a few years ago, when there was another gun problem.
There is a significant difference between this group and the Coalition. Whereas the Coalition was made up of African Canadian organizations, this group included a wider cross-section of organizations, such as the Ontario Coalition of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI), the Chinese Canadian National Council (CCNC) and the Urban Alliance on Race Relations (UARR) – just to name three.
Philosophically, the approaches are similar. The urging of both groups, then and now, has been to call on governments to respect the knowledge of the community, and the community-serving agencies, in program planning that would systemically and effectively enrich positively the direction of youth in a number of our communities.
Shortly after the Danzig St. events, a few organizations, some of which were part of the Coalition, held a news conference to again bring attention to the weakness in support of the community organizations that cater to youth, in comparison to the ready willingness and frequent response of focusing on policing.
I am growing to dislike the reference and identification of certain communities as “priority neighbourhoods”. This identification has quickly taken on, in my mind, the same symbolism that “ghetto” had become – a breeding ground for criminal activity among a certain race and class of people. Nevertheless, it also points to the fact that the poverty and the sense of hopelessness that may be endemic to these communities are largely at the root of the problem.
I have been in and around this community for a long time and I have observed the continual frustrations faced by the African-Canadian community because policymakers, particularly in government, have largely ignored its ideas and its solutions.
There was a time when community organizations like the Jamaican Canadian Association, the Black Action Defense Committee and many others before and between, have attempted to speak to necessary changes. They were sometimes listened to, but rarely heard. I have addressed this issue before, so I will not go back over it. However, it bears mentioning, if only for emphasis.
In one sense, collectively, the African-Canadian community does not have the political influence that some communities possess. We do not vote as a recognized bloc – if we bother to vote at all. We do not donate to political parties in recognizable blocs and we are not often seen in influential party positions. So, we continue to be marginalized.
In its statement, the recent group makes the observation:
“We need every order of government and community organizations in all sectors to unite in an on-going commitment to work together to build an inclusive and caring society by investing in our youth, in our communities, and in our social infrastructure.
“The time has come for a community-based approach that ensures those communities most affected by violence have a direct say in the political, social, and economic decisions that directly affect them. They hold in their hands the knowledge Toronto needs to find its way.”
I suspect that the Premier would never come out and apologize publicly for shelving “The Roots of Youth Violence” report which he asked Alvin Curling and Roy McMurtry to produce. However, in the wake of the Danzig St. events, he has inched towards that, in my view, by suggesting – almost in direct rebuttal to Mayor Rob Ford – that the answer to the problem is not more policing.
As noted earlier, the groups issuing the latest statement are more broad-based. They are not restricted to being specifically African-Canadian. Of the current group, there are only three organizations listed that were members of the Coalition: The Ontario Black History Society, the Somali Immigrant Aid Organization and the Midaynta Community Services.
This broad-based support is very important, if only to reinforce the need for a community-directed resolution to the root causes. However, it does not, and should not replace a core planning and executing body, particularly from the African-Canadian community, and that seems to be the missing ingredient.
To its credit, the African Canadian Legal Clinic continues to be an outspoken voice on behalf of the African-Canadian community. Regrettably, it has had a sometimes difficult relationship with other community activists.
The political activism of organizations such as the Jamaican Canadian Association, the Black Business and Professionals Association and the Black Action Defense Committee, seems to have lost its voice through a combination of leadership changes and the fear of losing funding. Therein lies our weakest link.
Unless and until our community can mount one strong advocacy voice that is largely dependent on its own resources, we will revisit this scenario in another couple of years and there will likely not be any substantive change.
By PATRICK HUNTER