Janet Davis looks out the window of her City Hall office and wonders aloud about the stabbing incident that recently took the life of 16-year-old Andrew Stewart. The same questions plaguing her will no doubt come up tonight (Thursday, December 16) when the Ward 31 councillor attends a meeting at East York Collegiate auditorium. She'll be joined there by constituents and other representatives of the city, school board, police service and community agencies in a group effort to better understand the circumstances surrounding Stewart's December 3 stabbing death on a Coxwell shopping strip.
Surely, residents of the North York neighbourhood where 18-year-old Tanner Hopkins was stabbed to death outside his family's home last weekend have similar concerns.
But Davis worries the constraints the city is under to meet its $7.2-billion operating budget could prevent council from doing everything that must be done to confront the growing crisis facing youth services.
"I think the most recent incidents are definitely going to be weighing on my mind as I go through the budget," she says. "It's hard to know whether it will become the predominant theme during the budget process. But if we want to keep our communities safe and to have the services and supports we need for our kids, then the answer's pretty clear for me and I think for many other councillors.
"I'm not prepared to support any cuts to libraries, to health, to parks and recreation," Davis says. "All of these services are part of a comprehensive approach to strengthening communities and addressing youth issues."
And they'll all have to endure the scrutiny of council's leaf-blowing and sidewalk snow-clearing advocates, not to mention the vocal law-and-order hardliners who believe the problem of youth violence is best dealt with by the cops rather than social services and community agencies. Given what can happen during often confused budget debates, no pool of taxpayer cash is safe from political trade-offs as the politicians look for almost $100-million in "efficiencies."
Davis can take some solace in the fact that Mayor David Miller is in the same political camp and that, when it comes to 2005 budget deliberations, he'll be the strongest supporter of the community safety plan he presented to council for approval last March.
The mayor was quick to point out this week that "one of the reasons we undertook the community safety plan was to start investing in young people before they get involved in violent or gun culture." But Miller added that "we obviously need to do a lot more in conjunction with our partners at the federal and provincial governments."
In other words, there's little the city can do to build on the community safety plan financially unless Queen's Park and the feds loosen their purse strings. And there's certainly no guarantee of that happening.
City staff have recommended scrapping community-building initiatives like the Celebrate Toronto street festival so more money can be committed to other needs.
"What happens when you're not getting proper funding in a city this size is that decisions like that have to be on the table," Miller says. "It's unfortunate and regrettable, but it's the way it is."
Such a statement regarding what many see as an initiative meant to promote neighbourhood values can't be much comfort to Davis.
She maintains that the focus of the community safety task force on high-need communities, including Malvern, Jane-Finch, Rexdale and Regent Park. has to be expanded to include other areas - like one in her ward that a recent United Way report identified as wanting in services and programs for young people.
"We have to look at how we ensure that we don't create a second round of 'top five' by ignoring other communities," the councillor says.