TORONTO – In his recently proclaimed ‘war on gangs,’ Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is calling on the provincial, and federal governments to increase funding to the Toronto Police, and extend jail sentences for those convicted of gun crimes. Toronto City councillors fired back saying that Rob Ford has a conflicting record on supporting anti-gang initiatives.
The call from Mayor Ford for a ‘war on gangs’ comes after a mass shooting on Danzig Street in Scarborough, that left two people dead, and 23 others injured – including a 22-month old toddler.
14-year old Shyanne Charles, and 23-year old Joshua Yasah – both considered innocent bystanders – were gunned down in a hail of bullets at the community barbeque on Monday night.
Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair’s suggestion of a “strong indication” of gang involvement in the shooting, has thrust the plight of at-risk youth under a spotlight in Toronto.
Two other people have been killed in separate shootings immediately following the Danzig shooting.
On Thursday, responding to the recent swell of gun violence, City Councillor Adam Vaughan spoke at a press conference about the importance of community programs in fighting gang violence.
“If all we’re going to talk about is more jails, and building more jails, and not better housing, and building better housing,” Vaughan said. “The cutting has got to stop, because the cutting is contributing to the problem.”
City councillors recently voted in favour of granting over $13 million dollars to community programs across Toronto – some of which are aimed at eradicating violence and gang activity in Toronto’s most vulnerable neighbourhoods.
Funding which Mayor Rob Ford voted against, according to city council records.
In June, Mayor Ford was the only member of council to vote against $350,000 from the federal government to fund a year-long gang intervention project.
The motion passed by a vote of 33-1 to accept the money from Ottawa’s National Crime Prevention Centre.
During a recent marathon session of city council, Mayor Ford was the sole ‘no’ vote on a number of motions administering grants to community programs.
In one motion, which passed 35-1, 214 community programs received a total of $13,462,054.00.
One group, The For Youth Initiative (FYI), located on Keele St near Rogers Rd. received $92,495.00 in funding. FYI works towards responding “to the crucial and pressing issues of youth disengagement, violence, crime, poverty and alienation among at-risk youth in the area,” according to the FYI website.
The Crime Prevention Association of Toronto (CPAT) also received $114,095.00 from the city of Toronto.
In association with the Toronto Police, CPAT helps coordinate the famed Neighbourhood Watch programs across the city. CPAT also runs a workshop entitled Youth and the Law that “focuses on violent crime,” and “issues of gang activity.”
Youthlink, which received $40,100.00, and the East Scarborough Boys and Girls Club which received $153,071.00 from the city of Toronto, are also responding to the east Scarborough neighbourhood ravaged by the mass shooting on Monday night.
According to the Youthlink website, the two groups will together be providing grief counselling to residents affected by the Danzig shooting.
When asked by Global News why the he voted against grants to support community groups Mayor Ford touted his apparent record of helping youth in Toronto.
“No one helps youth more than I do, no one helps youth more than I do. You know that, and for you to ask that question is embarrassing because I put more of my time and my own money into helping these kids than anyone does.”
Although Mayor Ford voted against granting funding to 214 various community programs, since the Danzig shooting he has taken a strong, public stance against gangs in the city.
A statement issued on Monday evening from the Mayor’s office declared war against gangs in Toronto.
“We must use every legal means to make life for these thugs miserable, to put them behind bars, or to run them out of town. We will not rest until being a gang member is a miserable, undesirable life,” Mayor Ford said in a statement. “Some people have suggested there is a gang war brewing. I don’t know if that’s true. But, I do know it’s time for us to declare war on these violent gangs.”
Mayor Ford suggested on Tuesday he would speak with Premier McGuinty and Prime Minister Stephen Harper in the coming days and weeks about getting more officers on the streets of Toronto, as well as stiffer penalties for those committing gun crimes.
More police, and stiffer penalties is a marked difference than the call being made by other city councillors for community funding.
On Thursday afternoon, Ford commented that community programs may not be the answer, and that jobs are the best way to fight gangs in the city of Toronto.
“The best social program is a job,” Mayor Ford said. “I don’t believe in these programs. I call them ‘hug a thug” programs, and they haven’t been very productive in the past, and I don’t know why we’re continuing with them.”
Scarborough Councillor Glenn De Bearemaeker says he agrees with the Mayor’s suggestion that a job is the best social program, but claims that social programs do work, and sometimes the best and only available job, for many at-risk youth, is a city-provided job.
“Sometimes the best job for them is a parks and recreation job, the city has a role in reaching out to at risk communities.” De Bearemaeker said. “I’ve lived in Scarborough my whole life and I know the TCH [Toronto Community Housing] projects very well. I can see and feel the difference that the outreach has made.”
Many of the city-funded programs, De Bearemaeker said, help at-risk youth get a job by teaching them essential skills such as how to use a computer, or write a resume.
List of the 214 programs that were granted funding by Toronto City-Council: