Dear Residents of Spadina-Fort York,
It has been a week since a barrage of bullets flew through the air in the riding we call home. It is not the first time this year gun fire has broken the silence, nor is it the first time this year that bullets have broken hearts of families and broken the sense of safety we’ve had in our neighbourhoods. This time however, it feels different. For some.
Part of the difference is that the gun violence happened in broad daylight—on a busy street with reckless abandon. The scene was at once all too familiar and totally surreal. It was without question unacceptable.
Of all the shootings, the event on Queen Street West is the one that must haunt us all. This is the street that drew many of us to this neighbourhood, and whether you have lived in the neighbourhoods along Queen for all of your life, for decades or just a few years, the yellow tape at Queen and Peter. The sirens, the blood on the sidewalk are shocking.
What they shouldn’t be are a wake-up call. The truth is we are all aware that gun violence is becoming far too common in far too many neighbourhoods in Toronto. That it hit closer to home this time may be new for some, but for too many it happens too often. It needs to change and we all have roles to play in making our city safer.
There have been earlier spikes and surges in gun violence in Toronto. Reports have been written, studies published, and policies produced. But, we haven’t had a sustained focus on following through with proven programs.
By the time a young person makes the wrong choice and reaches for a gun, it is just about too late. We need to focus on creating more resilient, more caring, and smarter kids. If the only choice we give young people is shoot or be shot, we have failed.
This is not to dismiss the critical role police play in keeping communities safe and holding people accountable for their actions. Gun sellers, shooters, criminals and those that break the law need to be dealt with if we are to live safely. However, policing alone can’t and won’t solve our city’s challenges.
As your federal elected official, here is what I’m working on in Parliament to make sure our communities have what they need to be safe neighbourhoods teeming with opportunity and not desperation. Safe and secure, not volatile and sources of fear.
– Gun Control: Bill C-71 rolls back the previous government’s moves to make hand guns easier to get and easier to transport in urban areas. I will be fighting to make the bill stronger as it relates to hand guns.
– Border Control: Even though more than half of the guns seized this year have been legally owned in Canada at one point, gun smuggling remains a concern. We have restored funding cut by the previous government to beef up border security.
– Housing: Building stronger children requires us to build better communities and that starts with safe and affordable housing. I have spearheaded the federal government’s return to housing and helped lead our government’s strategy to invest $40 billion in public housing over the next ten years.
– Children: The Canada Child benefit has helped lift hundreds of thousands of children out of poverty. It delivers thousands of dollars to low income parents so that they and their children can have a better future.
– Youth: We have doubled the Canada Summer Jobs funding and particularly in our riding we have topped up funds in collaboration with the city to make sure the community centres that serve low income residents have even more funds to hire young people. These targeted funds are specifically invested to make sure summer camps are as large and as strong as possible.
– Guns and Gangs: Our government has invested $327 million over the next five years, and $100 million annually thereafter, on anti-gun and gang initiatives, including help for cities and neighbourhoods to develop and sustain programs to keep youth away from gangs and help young people exit gangs safely.
– Marijuana: Cannabis Legislation has passed Parliament and a legalization and strict regulation regime will come into effect in October. This will remove close to $5 billion in revenue from street gangs and organized crime.
– Mental Health: In partnership with the previous Ontario government, we have supported new investments of close to $2 billion in new services and helped to eliminate wait times for young people in need. In neighbourhoods where gun violence is far too common, young people and families are surviving climates of intense and sustained fear. This pressure is causing strains on people in much the same way PTSD impacts front line service responders. Our investments are being used to address this.
– Racism: Discrimination and in particular anti-Black racism play a role in this issue. Lost jobs, limits on educational opportunities, humiliation and social aggression against targeted communities fuel despair. Bitterness and anger are not pathways to a more just society. Our government is making historic investments in these areas too, including addressing directly the impact Anti-Black racism has on young people.
Is all of this a comprehensive solution? Clearly not. But, I am certain we would be in a worse place without these efforts. In the days ahead, all levels of government are set to take more action. Rest assured, as your Member of Parliament, I will endeavour to bring forward the ideas and perspectives that have been shared with the office over the last week and the last few months.
In particular, I will work to make sure the strong and experienced voices from those communities that have been directly affected and the leaders in these neighbourhoods are at the table when decisions are made and investments delivered to address this serious situation.
It is also important that we think about what is happening in business districts like King West and Kensington Market. These locations with their vibrant and large entertainment clubs attract people from across the region to our communities. Extra policing and progressive restrictions on size and scale of operation a few years ago brought peace to our neighbourhoods. Perhaps it is time to review liquor and other regulations here to prevent other forms of violence from taking over city streets. Work here must be done as well.
Finally, a suggestion for local businesses: Employment. Young people who earn and work hard are far less likely to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. There are hundreds of great young students in our community ready and able to work. As businesses make decisions of the next few weeks let’s all think about the young people in the neighbourhoods that quite literally live next door. Hiring locally helps everyone. I urge local BIA’s to engage.
Resident associations can also pitch in. Our local community centres are running programs for youth that come from the same neighbourhoods that you represent. Let’s pull together and make sure Scadding Court, St. Stephen’s House, Alex Park Community Centre, University Settlement House and the Waterfront Community Centre get the support they need to run good sessions this summer. Call your local Centre and see what support your organization can provide.
We will get through this summer. We will get through safely if we all step up and work to make it happen. My office is here to assist and work towards making better. Please contact me or my staff if you have ideas.
Adam Vaughan, M.P.