Toronto’s mayoral candidates need to tackle the public safety issue

Click to play video: 'Former Toronto Police Inspector disagrees with Tory’s stance on dealing with on-going crime spree in the city'
Former Toronto Police Inspector disagrees with Tory’s stance on dealing with on-going crime spree in the city
Retired Toronto Police Staff Inspector Mike Earl speaks with Global's Caryn Lieberman and shares his view on how the Toronto Police Service can work with lower income communities to help tackle the city's on-going crime spree – Jul 6, 2018

This weekend, I was robbed. While out swimming at the Pam McConnell Aquatic Centre, formerly known as the Regent Park Aquatic Centre, with my nine-year-old daughter, her schoolmate and her mother, a thief broke into our locker and lifted my purse, with all its contents — wallet, phone, car and house keys.

We weren’t the only ones hit: the changeroom was awash in sodden, angry people, milling about in their bathing suits, searching in vain for their possessions. My daughter promptly started crying. Fortunately, our clothes weren’t worth stealing; we found them dumped in a changeroom, so at least she could get dressed while I ran to the front desk to report the theft.

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Regent Park is not a rich neighbourhood; it is actually the antithesis of a rich neighbourhood. Formerly a public housing project, it is now being “revitalized,” in the city’s parlance, with a mixture of public and private housing. Towering condos and tony townhouses are replacing the squat brick low rises that themselves replaced a slum in the 1960s. The theory is that the new mix of residents will prevent the problems that came before, i.e., one of the highest crime rates in the city, while still providing affordable housing for people on low income.

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But Regent Park borders another neighbourhood, Moss Park, which is not receiving the same treatment. If anything, Moss Park — named for the eponymous park which also houses the local arena — has become synonymous with a problem directly related to Toronto’s crime problem: the drug problem. During the day, people congregate in the park, passed out from their last fix; needles and garbage litter the ground; dealers do business with impunity. At night, it gets worse. On a recent Saturday, drug addicts staggered, zombie-like, across Sherbourne Street; a heavily pregnant woman, obviously high, struggled to get to her feet several times before collapsing back onto the grass.

Click to play video: 'Mayor John Tory refuses to back off on Toronto’s ongoing crime problem'
Mayor John Tory refuses to back off on Toronto’s ongoing crime problem

WATCH: Mayor John Tory refuses to back off on Toronto’s ongoing crime problem

The park sits across the street from a homeless shelter and in proximity to four recently-opened safe injection sites. While it has long been plagued by drugs and crime, the opioid crisis has upped the ante, to the point where residents say they feel utterly unsafe. The city’s response is a promise of more clean-up crews to remove the needles, a Band-Aid solution to a much bigger problem. Meanwhile, people desperate for drugs resort to desperate measures. That means more property crime: residents report more stealing, break-ins, and hold-ups.

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Back at our crime scene, my mind is racing. The thief or thieves have my phone; they could hack into it; they could steal my identity. They have my credit and debit cards; they could tap their way to a shopping spree. Worse yet, they have my licence, house key and car key; they know where we live, a 10-minute walk away. They could stroll right through our front door and help themselves to more. So I cancelled the cards, shut down the phone, modified online passwords, paid an extortionate fee to have the locks changed, and parked the car in a different neighbourhood, for fear someone would come and steal it in the middle of the night.

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It was a horrible and expensive way to end the summer. As I put my shaken daughter to bed, I reassured her, though, that it’s OK. It’s just stuff. It’s just money. Nobody lost their life. But then I thought, what if someone had? What if a parent, or God forbid, a child, had surprised the robber or robbers in the act? What if they had panicked, and stabbed or shot the witness? What if much worse had happened at that pool, in the middle of a sunny Sunday afternoon?

This is not an exaggerated fear. Toronto has had a hell of a summer — indeed, a hell of a year. So far in 2018, the city has racked up 73 homicides. Just this weekend, a man was gunned down at a barbeque near the CNE. One of the city’s iconic streets, the Danforth, was turned into a killing ground in July. A man is facing several charges after shots were fired at a popular shopping mall in the middle of the day. Children have been shot in playgrounds.

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Violent crime has hit every corner of the city, from the Annex to Jane and Finch, much of it gang-related. Add to that the 303 people who died from drug overdoses last year, and Toronto feels under siege. The two problems are connected, and are fast eroding the quality of life in this city.

These are the issues that need addressing in this fall’s municipal election. A recent Forum poll found that three quarters of Toronto voters cite public safety as their top concern.

Yet neither of the leading mayoral candidates has presented a coherent plan on this issue, or made it a centrepiece of their campaigns. They have piecemeal suggestions: John Tory and Jennifer Keesmaat both support a gun ban, which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is considering. Tory pledges to work with all levels of government and provide youth alternatives to keep them out of gangs. Keesmaat proposes to create “pathways out of violence,” and trots out her favourite adjective, “bold” solutions, though it’s not clear what those are.

Then it’s back to yakking about smart cities, traffic pilot projects and over-ambitious transit plans.

Click to play video: 'Jennifer Keesmat pledges huge investment in affordable housing if elected mayor'
Jennifer Keesmat pledges huge investment in affordable housing if elected mayor

WATCH ABOVE: Jennifer Keesmat pledges huge investment in affordable housing if elected mayor

Enough. It is time for the candidates to step up on the most important issue facing Toronto. Tell us how you propose to make this city safe — not just in the long term, but the short term as well. How you are going to return a sense of normalcy to the place? How you will work with all levels of government to tackle crime, drugs, and death in our streets? How you will ensure that we can take our kids to the public pool without fear? If people can’t go about their daily lives in peace and security, little else matters. The city is anxious, and citizens deserve answers.

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Tasha Kheiriddin can be heard between noon and 2 p.m. ET on Global News Radio 640 Toronto. She’s also a columnist with Global News.

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