Hot button: guns
With two weeks left in the election campaign, guns have become, next to Liberal scandals, the number-one issue. Indeed, the Conservatives, Liberals and NDP are falling over themselves around the politically attractive idea of mandatory minimum sentences for gun crimes. The NDP, strangely, would even try 16-year-olds in adult court if charged with gun crimes. (Okay, yes, I know the Tories want to try 14-year-olds as adults).
In the midst of this troubling consensus, spare a thought for the Coalition of African Canadian Organizations. The org, which doesn't believe the simple lock-'em-up approach will work, has, for lack of either finesse or fortune, suddenly found itself sidelined in an election debate in which it has a major investment.
Their frustration was palpable at a press conference the coalition held at Jamaican Canadian Association headquarters at Highway 400 and Finch January 3. Here, the group expressed shock that after the deaths of so many young black men last year, it took the shooting of a young white middle-class woman, Jane Creba, to get top civil servants from all three levels of government in a room together to deal with the issue.
The group had been calling for just such a summit for three months. But now one was scheduled for the next day, with reps from the province, feds and city, not to mention the OPP, RCMP and police Chief Bill Blair and the coalition wasn't on the invite list.
"Why must we wait for crime and violence to spill beyond our community before it is taken seriously?" asks the coalition's David Mitchell, past president of the Association of Black Law Enforcers, at the January 3 briefing. Sandra Carnegie-Douglas of the Jamaican Canadian Association opines that "if it was a black youth, we wonder if there would be an immediate response."
Sitting in that room, I wonder, too but I also can't help asking myself if this important and well-positioned group has a diplomacy shortfall. I'm referring to the fact that here we are, mere days after the outrageous shootout that killed Creba, and the coalition has not offered condolences to her loved ones in its prepared statement. In fact, it's only deep into the Q&A afterwards that Mitchell finally mentions the family's loss.
As well, the coalition's contingency plan if Stephen Harper wins the federal election strikes me as odd. According to coalition member Hugh Graham, president of the Black Business and Professional Association, the only Tory contact the group has made is wait for it Jim Flaherty, Mike Harris's Common Sense Revolution attack dog. "We presume that Flaherty will take the info back to the [Tory] caucus," he says. Flaherty is running in Whitby-Oshawa.
This leaves me scratching my head, since the coalition has been saying all along that it was the Harris government cuts and its Safe Schools Act that created the crisis among black youth in the first place.
When I ask Blair's spokesperson, Mark Pugash, why community groups weren't invited to participate in the summit, he says, "The purpose was to get all three levels of government to understand what one another are doing." City spokesperson Brad Ross assures me that activists will be involved in future meetings.
Still, it seems a shame the coalition was bypassed. Was it due to the group's lack of adroitness, or just plain bureaucratic insensitivity? Picture a room of mostly white folks, none of whom have ever set foot in Jane and Finch, sitting around plotting without those on the front line present to steer the discussion.
Some activists in the black community, it seems, do question the coalition's tactical skills during this election campaign. "They don't have a lot of political savvy," says one. "There are enough good people with a lot of experience, but I think they aren't taken seriously yet by government."
As the election heads into its most intense phase, and with so much at stake for the communities the coalition represents, one wonders why the group isn't focusing more on the ongoing action. The Black Action Defence Committee's Dudley Laws tells me the coalition has no plans to mobilize black voters around particular candidates who support its plans for investment in social programs for at-risk black youth.
"We have never considered being partisan politically," says Laws. "We are a coalition, and people within it support different parties." That said, Laws drops his non-partisan guard a bit around the possibility of a Harper Tory win. "We've been doing a lot of work with Miller, McGuinty and Martin, and I hope all our work is not lost if we get a change of government."