When gunfire erupted among shoppers in the heart of downtown Toronto the day after Christmas, leaving a teenaged girl dead and six other people wounded, Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin and Toronto Mayor David Miller were quick to identify the culprit: The United States.
”It’s a sign that the lack of gun laws in the U.S. is allowing guns to flood across the border that are literally being used to kill people in the streets of Toronto,” its mayor said from his vacation site in Spain. Missing from his statement was any recognition of the porous security at the Canadian border, the deteriorating Canadian social fabric, or the increased gang activity that has held his city hostage to escalating violence over the past few years.
Until now, as the bodies of shooting victims piled up, the mayor had remained mostly silent and had proposed few viable remedies for the violence that has turned Toronto into Murder City North. The 52 gun-related deaths in Canada’s largest city in 2005, out of a total of 78, is double 2004’s count.
“The U.S. is exporting its problem of violence to the streets of Toronto,” Miller charged. He added that his city is still very safe compared to most U.S. cities, yet statistics show violent crime has been dropping in most American cities while it is rising dramatically in such Canadian cities as Toronto and Winnipeg. In a revealing comment reported last year in the Toronto Sun, a retired Toronto police official said he actually feels safer walking the streets of New York City at night than Toronto streets during the day.
Toronto is now where many U.S. cities were back in the early 1970s, so helpless in the grip of thug violence that it spawned vigilante movies like Dirty Harry and Death Wish, with theater audiences clapping and cheering at scenes of the bad guys being gunned down in the streets. Toronto’s increasing gun violence has been its dirty little secret, now being exposed for potential tourists to see.
Martin, in the midst of a reelection campaign in which America bashing is such a major tactic it drew a rebuke from the U.S. ambassador to Ottawa, also chimed in on the shootings. Claiming that half of the gun crimes in Canada involve weapons entering illegally from the U.S., he said, “What we saw is a stark reminder of the challenge that governments, police forces, and communities face to ensure that Canadian cities do not descend into the kind of rampant gun violence we have seen elsewhere.”
The words “descend” and “elsewhere,” of course, refer to the U.S. By refusing to address Canada’s own role in the shootings, it appears that Martin is gearing up to have Canada join some of the world’s Islamic countries who blame all their problems on either the U.S. or Israel.
In what is obviously pure politics, he has pledged to ban all handguns if reelected on Jan. 23. But Canada already has stiff restrictions against such guns, and a ban would only take them away from law-abiding citizens and leave them in the hands of gang members and other criminals.
The Toronto shootings actually play into Martin’s hands, giving him more ammunition in to propagandize that a Canada under Conservative-party leader Stephen Harper would be more like the U.S.
What is terrifying about Toronto’s gun violence is that it is not mostly restricted to certain neighborhoods with heavy gang activity and drug dealing, as in the U.S., but rather occurs all over the city and suburbs. Toronto itself has become one big, dangerous neighborhood, with shootings outside a church during a funeral, at a barbecue, on a bus, and elsewhere.
It is difficult to begin making progress toward solutions when the mere mention of the fact that virtually all of the shooters are young black men immediately brings cries of “racist” and “profiling” from black community leaders. In Canada, one of the world’s most politically correct countries, even tough talk by police officials about getting criminals off the streets is viewed by some as racist.
It is easier to blame the U.S. and remain in denial than to recognize any need for Canada to take responsibility for its own problems. While America’s national symbol is the eagle, Canada’s should be the ostrich.
Meanwhile, hope that Canadian voters might do the virtually unimaginable and actually turf out the incompetent and corrupt Liberal party appears to be gaining life. A burgeoning government financial scandal has allowed the Conservatives to close the gap with the Liberals, although Canadian voters have toyed with change in the past only to bow to their dislike of risk on Election Day.
–An ex-Torontonian, California-based Doug Gamble is a former writer for Presidents Reagan and Bush 41. He is now a freelance writer for various politicians and corporate executives.