Tonight I attended the Town Hall on "Guns, Gangs and Crime" that was hosted by CFRB Radio at Marshal McLuhan Catholic Secondary School. It was broadcast live tonight on AM 1010 and will be replayed on Saturday between 4 and 6pm. (The CFRB link lists the complete agenda, which is pretty much how things actually unfolded.)
The first half of the meeting was dedicated to remarks by the many guests and hosts Bill Carroll and Spider Jones.
The opening speakers set the tone for discussing the situation:
The evening was suddenly punctuated by a screaming woman in the audience. I couldn't catch everything she said, but I believe she talked about her child being raped and/or murdered by the police at 13 Division. She kept repeating, "I want my child back", and warned us that "they're setting up black people, talking about blacks and guns instead of racial profiling." After quite a long time, she was ushered out of the room. However, this foreshadowed a theme that I'll come back to later in this report.
The next time block was dedicated to the panel of elected officials. Karen Stintz was silent, except for private conversations off stage with Councillor Michael Thompson. Thompson made some remarks about his plan to deal with guns and crime, some of which he said was paralleled by a plan announced by the Mayor today. Thompson also read a memo he had received from MP Art Eggleton claiming an interest on behalf of the GTA caucus to "get involved".
Much of the focus on elected officials tonight was on Mayor David Miller and Chief Julian Fantino. What was unexpected -- for me, at least -- was the strength of consensus among everyone who spoke. Fantino, Miller and all were united in their emphasis on prevention through offering opportunities and hope for youth. Funding for community centres and programs for youth were unanimous priorities.
A key moment came when Fantino was asked if he had enough resources. He said that there is never enough, but he must be conscientious of the fiscal realities of the day. Carroll pressed him and suggested Fantino needed 500 more cops. Surprisingly, Fantino said that although he'd be happy to have 500 more cops, the police are not a production line. Prevention is preferable.
(This was also a key moment for Bill Carroll to attempt a low blow at the mayor. When he mentioned the 500 new cops, an audience member yelled "no". Carroll told the listening audience that in fact it wasn't David Miller who yelled it. Ha ha.)
The final panelist was Willowdale MPP David Zimmer. He was repeatedly asked what the Ontario government would do about this issue, and when it would provide funding to help the city with these crucial issues. Programs that once existed for youth have been phased out and fees have been imposed on activities that use school properties because of provincial funding cuts. However, Zimmer's only commitment was to the "Elite Anti-Gun Task Force". He assured us that it has "never been done like this before". His crack team of senior police officers and 12 dedicated prosecutors will be assigned to work directly to combat gun crime.
So, there was no strife on the panel. But there was a considerable split within the audience.
The split was between two camps within the black community. Some were there to argue fiercely that the issue was really one of racial profiling, police racism, and lack of economic opportunity for blacks. Others attempted to shout them down, and pleaded with them to stop making excuses and to work with the police. Fantino had his supporters there who gave him credit for doing his all. For others, he was a target who condoned racist behaviour.
Fantino did not help matters with his public speaking ability. He's the Anti-Clinton -- not only does he fail to convey empathy through his comments, he fails to seem even like he's trying to look caring.
There were also some concrete suggestions made for improving law enforcement in Toronto. Fantino wants to overhaul the criminal justice system to "put fear back where it belongs". He wants a 10 year minimum sentence for anyone using a gun in a crime. He also called for a crack down on the flow of guns into the city. And, importantly, he said Ontario needs an effective witness protection program to help witnesses feel safe coming forward.