York U shooting: How do you prevent violence on campus?

Watch the video above: Security stepped up at York University after shooting. Mark McAllister reports. 

TORONTO – There may not be one clear method to prevent campus shootings. But security experts and community leaders are touting a bottom-up, multi-disciplinary approach following the latest incident at Toronto’s York University.

A gunshot fired in the York campus food court Thursday night wounded two female students and has Toronto Police searching for a male suspect in his mid-20s.

The university has “taken several measures to enhance safety on campus, including increasing security patrols and the use of Toronto Police Service” since the shooting, according to a York spokesperson.

Toronto Police Constable Victor Kwong said police will speak to York officials and “see what other types of measures can be done.”

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“We already have a good relationship with York University and campus security so we will just have to augment some of that,” he said.

But will patrols and increased police presence be effective in mitigating risk?

Masculinity and violence at York

Jeff Perera lives near the York area and works as a community engagement manager with the White Ribbon Campaign, an organization of men and boys working towards a new vision of masculinity that doesn’t include violence against women and girls. He was on campus Tuesday to give a talk related to violence in Toronto communities, and touched on the 2012 Eaton Centre shooting, which also took place in the food court area, and left two people dead.

He referenced York’s student newspaper report that a witness described Thursday night’s shooting as an accident.

Perera suggests additional security measures won’t change the mindset of a young man carrying a weapon through campus, and instead touts the “Men’s Team” created by the university’s Centre for Human Rights. It’s a peer-to-peer outreach group that he’s been supporting to further the anti-violence conversation.

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“The stereotype of the York community is violence. And what they can do about that is either say, ‘It’s a taboo topic and we don’t want to address it,’ or they can take it on … show initiative and leadership,” said Perera. “So the peer-to-peer piece is really important: Getting student leaders, student voices to speak up and then talk to other fellow students about the different climates and the culture on campus. It’s not unique to that campus, but there’s definitely a culture and a climate that needs to be looked at and talked about.”

Watch: Two women suffered non-life-threatening injures after a shooting inside York University March 6.

Do metal detectors protect, or manufacture fear?

Carleton University criminologist Darryl Davies has studied evidence-based crime prevention, gun control, youth gangs, and policing—and even spent time teaching in the Saskatchewan Penitentiary.

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He believes mandatory high school and university anti-violence courses that instill respect, tolerance and civic values—particularly given Canada’s multicultural society—is the only way to prevent violence on campus and beyond.

Davies said more extreme measures like metal detectors at entrances would be contrary to the freedom associated with education in a democratic society.

Watch below: Paramedics tend to shooting victims at York University Thursday evening. WARNING: As video contains graphic images which may offend some viewers, discretion is advised.

“We can’t start manufacturing fear and all of a sudden saying, ‘These places are not safe’—it’s just absolute rubbish,” he said. “It just fuels bigotry, narrow-mindedness, the ignorance and the furtherance of violence.”

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Learning the behaviour of a shooter

But what about when the place becomes unsafe in what American law officials refer to as an “active shooter” situation?

Michael Dorn is executive director of Safe Havens International – the world’s largest school safety centre, based in the U.S. but frequently working with officials in Canada and more than 20 other countries around the world.

He believes what’s needed is multi-disciplinary threat assessment training: Teaching school security and staff techniques like visual screening training, pattern matching or behavioural cue recognition so they can tell when someone’s carrying a gun. He also believes university mental health officers are just as important as police.

Dorn said Canada tends to be a “bit behind the U.S.” on these techniques.

“From the feedback I’ve gotten from my Canadian audiences –police officers, educators, so forth—I gather we’ve had a lot more government funding here than you have in Canada,” he said, citing federal government funding.

“University police departments here, they have full swat teams, bomb robots, things like that.”

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Dorn said Canada—along with countries in Africa and South America—also falls behind when it comes to the “level of assessment.” He describes working with 40-person teams made up of architects, attorneys, police chiefs, school security, and engineers.

“What they’re doing is they’re using a great deal of data and evaluation to determine what this district is going to do to prevent violence, and accidental deaths, and to be prepared for emergencies. That’s done at a very high level here in the U.S.”

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