50% of Toronto residents avoiding large crowds, public areas: Ipsos poll

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WATCH ABOVE: Majority of Torontonians agree their city has a serious gun problem: Poll

In the wake of deadly incidents like the Toronto van attack and the mass shooting on the Danforth, residents are thinking twice about attending public areas with large crowds, a new opinion poll has found.

Fifty per cent of Torontonians say they are making conscious decisions to avoid large crowds and public areas over safety concerns, according to an Ipsos poll conducted exclusively for Global News. That feeling was voiced by 59 per cent of respondents living in North York, a community still shaken by last April’s van attack along Yonge Street.

READ MORE: Is the city more violent than it was five years ago? Majority of Torontonians think so: poll

Based on a survey of 800 Toronto residents between July 25 and July 30, the poll gauged the overall feelings of residents living in a city that has experienced a surge in gun violence. There have been 233 shootings in 2018, up nearly 10 per cent from last year and 124 per cent from 2014, according to police data, with 30 gun homicides.

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Following the Danforth mass shooting on July 22 that killed Reese Fallon, 18, and Julianna Kozis, 10, 55 per cent of respondents said that they are afraid of falling victim to gun violence, with residents in North York most likely to fear being shot.

“If anybody is thinking that [gun violence] is sort of a low-key issue or something you can treat with anything less than urgency they are probably wrong,” said Ipsos Global Affairs CEO Darrell Bricker.

People light candles and leave photos of 18-year-old victim Reese Fallon at a memorial remembering the victims of a shooting on Sunday evening on Danforth, Ave. in Toronto on Monday, July 23, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Blinch
People light candles and leave photos of 18-year-old victim Reese Fallon at a memorial remembering the victims of a shooting on Sunday evening on Danforth, Ave. in Toronto on Monday, July 23, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Blinch. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Blinch

In 2005, the so-called “year of the gun” when 15-year-old Jane Creba was shot and killed near the Eaton Centre on Boxing Day, an Ipsos poll found 87 per cent felt that the city had become more violent in the previous five years.

“While people may perceive that things are getting worse, they’ve been thinking it’s getting worse for a long time,” Bricker said.

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READ MORE: Mass shooting in Toronto’s Danforth neighbourhood won’t deter visitors, experts say

The poll results also suggest residents feel that Toronto the Good is becoming Toronto the Violent, with 88 per cent of respondents feeling the city is more dangerous than five years ago. However, 80 per cent still feel safe over all.

The latest data from Statistics Canada shows that while Toronto led the country in homicides in 2017 murder rates were actually below the national average.

Last year, Toronto’s recorded 92 homicides, trailed by Vancouver at 52, Edmonton at 49 and Montreal at 46. Yet the average homicide rate for Toronto was 1.8 per 100,000 people last year, with the most deadly cities being Thunder Bay at a rate of 5.8 and Vancouver’s suburbs of Abbotsford and Mission (4.72), according to Statistics Canada.

“This is one of those perils of perception, where there’s a difference between the truth and what people think,” said Bricker. “What we are talking about is an overall feeling than any specific knowledge.”

“The solution is not to say it’s as bad as you think,” he said. “It’s about getting concerned about what the issue and showing some progress against it.”

READ MORE: Older brother of Toronto mass shooter was facing drug and weapons charges

Statistics Canada’s violent crime severity index, which measures the volume and severity of crimes such as murder, robbery and sexual assault, ranked Toronto 13th of 33 cities, which was led by Winnipeg, Thunder Bay, Ont., Saskatoon and Edmonton.

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The results of the poll are also at odds with the stunning displays of solidarity as thousands packed Toronto’s streets for vigils and memorials following the senseless acts of violence.

Howard Lichtman of the Danforth Business Improvement Area said the people of Toronto won’t be defined or deterred by senseless acts of violence.

However, he does feel like the city is more violent than in past years.

“That doesn’t mean that’s how we have to live our lives,” said Litchman, who helped organized Taste of the Danforth for more than 10 years. “You can’t allow singular acts of violence to dictate who you are, what you are and how you want to live your life.”

Taste of the Danforth — the city’s largest street festival — is celebrating its 25th anniversary on Aug. 10 and will honour the victims of the shooting, Lichtman said.

WATCH: Saving lives in wake of Danforth shooting attack

Click to play video 'Saving lives in wake of Danforth shooting attack' Saving lives in wake of Danforth shooting attack
Saving lives in wake of Danforth shooting attack

He praised how the city has come together in the face of tragedy and feels that Torontians will continue to celebrate its diverse communities.

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“The feeling on the street and what everybody has been saying is this is going to be the biggest festival ever,” Lichtman said.

Fear and increased anxiety are normal responses to public acts of violence, say experts, who urge anyone feeling these emotions to reach out for support. The Victim Services Toronto crisis line can be reached by calling 416-808-7066 and a list of mental health resources can be found here.

“Instead of avoiding our feelings, it is important to recognize them. You are not alone in these feelings and reaching out to a loved one for support is recommended,” Toronto-based clinical psychologist Dr. Maneet Bhatia told Global News following the van attack. “If you feel overwhelmed to the point where your anxiety and distress is something you cannot cope with on your own, have compassion for yourself, and reach out to a mental health professional to help you through it.”

READ MORE: Feeling distressed or scared after Toronto’s van attack? Here’s how to get help

Other findings of the poll include:

  • Eighty-one per cent said that there is a serious gun problem in their city, while 19 per cemt disagree that a problem exists
  • Sixty-four per cent of respondents said that they avoid certain neighbourhoods because they are scared for their safety, led by those living in Etobicoke/York (71 per cent), followed by North York (68 per cent), Scarborough (64 per cent), and Toronto/ East York (57 per cent). However, 56 per cent say that gun violence in Toronto is mostly contained to a few neighbourhoods, suggesting that people see shootings as a more widespread problem.
  • Eight in 10 believe that their city is relatively safe, compared to other cities of similar size. In fact, to show their support for the communities rocked by gun violence, nearly two in five (38 per cent) will go out of their way to visit and shop in these neighbourhoods.
  • Six in 10 respondents said they do not feel safe walking alone in an unfamiliar neighbourhood after dark, including 18 per cent who claim to feel very unsafe.
  • Seventy-one per cent view gangs as a major factor (compared to 89 per cent in 2005), two in three (67 per cent) think drugs are a major factor (86 per cent in 2005), four in ten cite poverty (39 vs. 50 per cent in 2005) or the glamorization of gang culture (44 per cent vs. 63 per cent in 2005) as major factors, and one in three the lack of police presence (32 per cent vs. 42 per cent in 2005), affordable housing (34 per cent vs. 38 per cent in 2005), or adequate recreational facilities and youth programs (30 per cent vs. 46 per cent in 2005) as major factors.

These are some of the findings of an Ipsos survey conducted between July 2530, 2018, on behalf of Global News. For this survey, a random sample of 800 Toronto residents aged 18+ were interviewed online via the Ipsos I-Say panel and non-panel sources. Weighting was then employed to balance demographics to ensure that the sample’s composition reflects that of the adult population according to Census data and to provide results intended to approximate the sample universe. The precision of Ipsos online surveys is measured using a credibility interval. In this case, the survey is accurate to within ±4.0 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, had all Toronto residents over the age of 18 been surveyed. The credibility interval will be wider among subsets of the population. All sample surveys and polls may be subject to other sources of error, including, but not limited to coverage error, and measurement error.