Five days. Five shootings. Three dead. Eight injured.
Busy intersections. Public spaces. Broad daylight.
A long weekend of bloodshed in Toronto that started Friday morning with a woman allegedly pulling out a shotgun and injuring a pedestrian and a cyclist would by Tuesday morning include a daylight shooting in Queen St. W.’s shopping district that killed two, an evening shooting in the busy Kensington Market — where one of four injured died Wednesday — and another shooting just after last call in the Fashion District.
Toronto’s seen an increase in gun violence in recent months, but the move into highly public and busy downtown areas has experts saying the city as a whole is awakening to the kind of gun violence many communities experience in their day-to-day lives as social media allows for gun violence to spread from traditionally low-income residential areas into places of leisure and entertainment.
“Toronto is under siege right now, and the mayor cannot continue to say it’s safe,” said Louis March, founder of the Zero Gun Violence Movement.
March, whose group does outreach work in communities affected by gun violence, said social media — with people posting their whereabouts on apps such as Instagram — has made it easier for members of violent gangs to locate and attack each other.
He said previously the majority of shootings were in the confines of community housing areas — generally characterized by poverty, lack of employment, lack of education, mental health issues and drugs. Now, the violence is spilling out of those areas.
“Now there are shootings in Yorkville, on Queen St., King St. The targets are found in schools and children’s playgrounds,” he said.
Speaking to CP24 Tuesday morning, Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders said he was worried about the “brazenness” of some of the weekend shootings, adding that it was “not the norm” to have gun violence in broad daylight at some of Toronto’s busiest intersections.
Wendy Cukier, a professor at Ryerson University and president of the Coalition for Gun Control, said “gun violence is almost a fact of daily life” in many communities in Toronto, “and it’s not until it spills into the downtown core that people start to pay attention.”
“When violence occurs in a neighbourhood where you shop every Saturday, or where you go out for a drink on Friday night, it takes on a very different meaning than if it’s in a community that’s more remote,” Cukier said.
“And so I think that we see people who weren’t paying attention suddenly opening their eyes and realizing there’s a problem.”
The general population is now feeling the psychological effects that violence has on how people think and behave, said Toronto psychotherapist and community advocate Reverend Sky Starr.
“For a regular person who just wants to live, they’re feeling that deep level of insecurity,” said Starr, who works with Rexdale-based Out Of Bounds, a grassroots initiative that empowers families and people who have been witnesses or survivors of gun violence.
“People now feel like it can happen anytime, anywhere. Safety and security are basic human needs, and right now all of that is being eroded.”
Jooyoung Lee, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Toronto, said the weekend violence has created a “greater sense of our own mortality.”
“People seem to be commenting how they don’t feel as safe anymore, they don’t know if they can go out at night,” Lee said. “They’ve grown up in these areas and suddenly these areas have a cloud over them, this ominous cloud that portends danger.”
Lee said that is often the reality of racialized youth in Canada. He said there is “less public outrage” and discussion when shootings occur in low-income, racialized communities.
“When (shootings) unfold in settings that feel much more familiar, or in places where they quote-unquote shouldn’t be happening or should be safe, then people begin to talk about how brazen they are,” Lee said.
Lee said he hopes people feeling apprehensive and vulnerable for the first time will reflect on how such concerns are a reality for others, especially disadvantaged youth, “and say ‘something needs to be done about this.’”
“We have to make sure that every neighbourhood and every young person growing up in the city doesn’t have to go through this and doesn’t have to feel at risk of being bodily harmed or shot,” Lee said.
Exposure to gun violence can weaken the bonds of a civil society, Lee said, as people lose trust in neighbours and become less willing to participate in the life of a community.
Cukier echoed that sentiment, adding quick interventions are needed, such as intelligence-led policing and enforcement — making it harder for people who are a threat to themselves and others to get guns — and community supports.
Starr said the authorities need to be more proactive and deal with the systemic issues at the root of gun violence, rather than being reactive. Support and reassurance have to be ongoing, she said.
“You just can’t do a little community event and think this is going to be past. It isn’t,” Starr said. “Grief and trauma is long-term. It’s not like an overnight thing.”
March said he wants to see governments invest in underprivileged communities, and create programs that support and engage young people in the process of creating economic opportunities.
“There’s a difference between living in Rosedale and Rexdale, living in High Park and Regent Park,” he said.
Tamar Harris is a general assignment reporter based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @tamarmharris
Gilbert Ngabo is a general assignment reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @dugilbo