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BBPA Town Hall meeting tackles gun violence

26 Nov 2005
The Black Business & Professional Association’s monthly gathering drew more than its usual crowd yesterday at the Holiday Inn on King Street. The original venue at Metro Hall had to be abandoned given the huge number of community members who indicated their desire to attend this meeting. And they came from all areas of the city; old and young, professionals and others to discuss the issue of the moment in Toronto: Gun Violence.

So far this year there have been 37 homicides caused by guns in the city. The issue has been debated in many town hall meetings involving decision-makers and citizens. The Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General was even forced to recently issue a series of measures meant to quell the current violence and deter would-be offenders. They include more judges on the benches, more police officers on the streets and more promises of youth programs funding.

So it is with fervent anticipation that the huge crowd crammed in the Regency Ballroom waited for the discussion to commence. The names on the panel promised a lively exchange and they did not disappoint. One after the other, they used the four minutes the moderator Karlene Nation of CTV assigned them to weight-in on the causes of the violence, the historical background, the ramifications and the required changes.

Monty Kwinter, Ontario Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services outlined the different types of criminals, indicating that there are some who have crossed to the side of hard-core criminals.

Mary-Ann Chambers, Minister Children and Youth Services provided an array of statistics on the number of children in the welfare system and in mental care, in order to underline the complex nature of the issue of gun violence and its relationship to proper family environments.
“There are parents that need to be mentored as much as there are kids who need to be mentored!” she said, adding that “our kids are predominantly law abiding and do not deserve to be stereotyped.”

Gyasi Ferdinand, a survivor of the temptations of street life spoke of his experience as a former drug dealer in Regent Park and his brush with death presented in the documentary film “Cheating Death” (shown after the discussion and scheduled to air on TVO in October). He emphasized the need for physical discipline as done in his native Trinidad, in the process quoting Bible verses and expounding on the absence of religion in schools while “they give kids condoms,” he added.

Other panelists included Audette Shephard, Chairperson of United Mothers Against Violence Everywhere (UMOVE) and mother of the late Justin Sheppard, a victim of Toronto gun violence, Mike Frederico Staff superintendent of the Toronto Police Services, Donald McLeod a lawyer, Professor Scot Wortley of the University of Toronto Criminology Centre and Zanana Akande a former principal in the Toronto District School board who emphasized the shortcomings of the education system with respect to minorities.

But perhaps the most memorable four minutes of the evening belonged to Community Worker Kevin Francis who spoke passionately of his own experience with hopelessness and poverty and of the need for all to support the youth and steer them in the right direction at a young age. In some neighbourhoods, he said “it’s easier to get a gun than a pack of cigarettes”. In the end he came to tears as he simply demanded that we all: “support our kids; please don’t give up on them!”

The Q&A session that followed the panel discussion brought out both the exuberance of the optimists and the cynicism and rage of many in the community who voiced concern over the lack of funding for youth-oriented programs, the over-funding of “mainstream programs”, the shrinking ranks of Black people in the voting booths and the perennial scapegoat: television.

“Let’s get BET out of Toronto,” one of the audience members shouted over the microphone as applause filled the room.

For all the nice words and sentiments, one was still left wondering whether they would translate to concrete undertakings. No plan of future action was adopted, no resolutions were voted on and no upcoming meetings on the subject were planned. The event itself, taking place in a downtown hotel, away from the “troubled neigbourhoods” most affected by the violence, failed to bring out the young people and parents who would have greatly benefited from the advice being offered. Lawyer Donald McLeod put it best: “we keep talking about the village, but some of us who make it, run from the village.”


The next BBPA gathering will take place at Metro Hall (55 John Street) on October 19th 2005 and will focus on: "The Media, Friend or foe?"

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