Here are five lessons learned (and some yet to be absorbed) from the troubling aftermath of the Monday, July 16, shooting spree on Danzig Street in Scarborough.
1. Rob Ford is so out of his depth, it's not funny any more.
Give the big dog a bone and he's liable to mangle it. The mayor's spinners thought they'd found an issue post-Danzig Street tragedy - one tailor-made for Ford to reclaim that agenda that's been MIA for some months now. Ford tried his damnedest to look like the man in control, wearing that business-like expression he acquires for the cameras during important moments like these. Instead, he fell flat on his face. His off-the-cuff proposal that immigration laws be used to deal with gun crime left even his comrades in the conservative press - ones usually willing to give the bully the benefit of the doubt - scratching their heads. Ford's anti-immigrant musings were no fluke, but rather coldly calculated to rouse the segment of that dormant base of his, aka Ford Nation, that eats up that kind of crap.
A couple of his soldiers showed up at Premier Dalton McGuinty's presser at the Scarborough Boys and Girls Club Friday, July 20, one of them carrying a sign, to blame Third World arrivals for all that ails T.O.
2. Toronto enters red-neck territory.
On the immigrant cock-up, news orgs busied themselves politely seeking clarification on what were clearly ignorant, and possibly racist, comments, as if the mayor simply had some explaining to do. None required, it's sad to say. Ford has always had his issues with immigration (Gino Boys and Asians who work like dogs, etc). It's like that gay thing. He cracked on live TV during the election about too many foreigners in the city, it should be remembered.
And while it's easy to dismiss the mayor's musings as misguided, unfortunate, shortsighted - take your pick - they're harder to ignore in the context of other ill-informed comments that opinion makers in the conservative press have made about the root causes of gun violence. Women "spreading their legs," as some guy named Menzoid over at Sun TV put it, and bearing "fatherless" children has been an overarching theme of the gun violence coverage.
Let's forget for the moment that arrests have yet to be made, save for a minor one unrelated to the two deaths in the Scarborough incident. We know nothing of the family situations of the alleged culprit or culprits.
But alongside the colour-coded narrative, gun advocates and right-wing media outlets trying to pre-empt any discussion of a handgun ban (the premier thinks that's part of the solution) have adopted the position made popular by the political doublespeak of the NRA in the U.S. - that loosening gun laws will reduce crime. If everyone is packin', that'll scare away the bad guys, or so the theory goes. Perhaps they haven't noticed the events that transpired in Aurora, Colorado last week.
We know from our experience in Canada that provinces with higher rates of gun ownership, for example, also have higher rates of gun-related death and injury. More guns equals more death.
3. Hoaxes and hypocrites.
The mayor was quick to take credit for squeezing more cash out of the province for the force's TAVIS "rapid response" unit. Money talks, bullshit walks was Ford's sound bite going in to Monday's so-called "gun summit" with the premier and Police Chief Bill Blair.
But other political forces are behind the $500K for TAVIS, chief among them the fact that the province is already spending millions in crime prevention programs. The other overlooked political variable: McGuinty's Minister of Health Promotion and Sport, Margarett Best, represents Scarborough-Guildwood, the riding where the shooting happened.
Ford is only kidding himself if he thinks he came out of this week's meeting with anything but egg on his face. He's the guy who froze hiring of police during the last round of budget cuts, which raises the question: how much of the gun play we're experiencing now is fallout from the fact that community foot patrols had to be scaled back to meet the Ford admin's bottom line?
Cops all the way from 14 Division in the west end had to be dispatched to cover off the Danzig shooting. For that matter, Emergency Medical Services personnel from the 905 had to be called in as well to bolster Toronto EMS, another area that's seen budgetary tightening.
4. So much for that law and order agenda.
Nice of Prime Minister Stephen Harper to take a break from his summer holidays to blow through town and meet with fishing buddy Ford for a photo op and what the PM termed a "full and frank" discussion on gun violence Tuesday. It's all an illusion, of course.
At a time when police say 70 per cent of handguns used in the commission of crimes are entering the country from south of the border, the feds are cutting hundreds of frontline positions and funds for border security. Ironic, really, considering that it was the high-profile gang-related 2005 Boxing Day shooting of Jane Creba that Conservatives used to push the panic and their law-and-order agenda during the 2006 federal election.
More to the point, how can a government that says it stands for law and order abolish willy-nilly the long-gun registry police have relied on to catch gun criminals? How is mandatory minimum sentencing, discredited as a crime fighting tool in the U.S., going to do anything but produce more hardened criminals? We can't arrest ourselves out of this situation.
The feds need look no further than the research conducted for their own public safety minister, which is hiding in plain sight on the government's website.
A brief prepared on street gangs states that "suppression strategies" like crackdowns and aggressive enforcement tactics show "little evidence of lasting impact." The document recommends a focus on prevention programs that keep kids out of gangs in the first place, backed by stable funding. The report notes that even successful anti-gang programs have lost funding since the HarperCons have been in office.
These findings are not rocket science. We know them from countless provincial reports on the root causes of gun violence, including Alvin Curling and Roy McMurtry's in 2008, Julian Falconer's on school violence after the 2007 death of Jordan Manners, and the Toronto police's own summit headed by former chief Julian Fantino. Poverty, racism, the education system and lack of economic opportunity and jobs all play a role, to say nothing of mental health issues associated with grinding poverty and isolation.
5. The extent of the gang
problem in Toronto depends on how we define "gang."
Is gang activity increasing? Is it becoming more violent? The recent very public shootings at the Eaton Centre and on Danzig (not to forget a café on College and one in Lawrence Heights) would suggest the answer is yes to both questions.
But with crime, perception usually trumps reality. The fact is, crime rates in Toronto have been on the decline for the better part of the last decade. That didn't happen magically. Prevention programs have had something to do with it. The previous administration at City Hall also spared no expense where policing was concerned. And the police brass over at 40 College also had their marching orders to put more boots on the street.
For all the chief's publicly stated commitment to community policing, it can't be overlooked that the more hard-boiled tone preferred by the Ford admin has seemingly filtered down to the division commanders.
And as a consequence, we're having the same debates about gun violence that we've been having for the last decade.