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CBC Docs POV (2019.03.08) Year of the Gun

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Toronto markets itself as a world-class, diverse and tolerant city. But if you scratch beneath the surface, the 428 shootings that took place in 2018 will tell a different story. Captured in CBC Docs POV’s Year of the Gun, produced and directed by Toronto filmmaker Marc de Guerre, it’s a story of disparities between neighbourhoods, some that are well-served and others that are forced to live with a constant fear of violence.

Although politicians attempt to stake out annual anomalies with the label “The Year of the Gun,” the city of Toronto has had to contend with gun violence for the last 30 years. What made 2018 different was not the number of shootings, but rather the city’s, and the country’s, awareness of gun violence.

Year of the Gun, filmed during 2018 — the year with the highest recorded number of gun deaths and injuries combined — looks at how this violence impacts Toronto’s residents and what they’re doing to fight back.

Toronto is a divided city of immense wealth and profound poverty, where many residents lack access to the affordable housing, dependable transportation and employment opportunities that would provide a decent quality of life. Known as the child poverty capital of Canada, it’s also a place where racialized families have a much higher risk of living in poverty. And it’s in low-income, marginalized communities where much of the city’s gun violence takes place.

In some neighbourhoods, there are residents who have lost multiple people in their lives to gun death. Adam Vaughan, MP for Spadina–Fort York, says he’s been to more funerals in his riding related to shootings than to funerals for his own family. And the toll on these communities is immense.

Zya Brown is the founder of Think 2wice, an organization that provides “trauma-informed and culturally sensitive” programming and support to young people in at-risk neighbourhoods and people who have been incarcerated. She understands how essential support systems are in steering people away from violence.

“Sometimes you see people say, ‘Oh, you just need to make that change,’” Brown says. “But how do you tell someone to change when they’re surrounded by darkness? When they’re surrounded by poverty and trauma and grief?”

Experts say that gun violence is not a problem without solutions. There’s been no shortage of community advocacy, or op-eds and government papers detailing the many potential ways to address the issue.

One major obstacle is that, too often, when we attempt to talk about gun violence in Canada, the conversation veers toward long guns, hunting and tradition, and away from systemic issues. (This is despite the fact that Canada has far less national mythology around the importance of firearms than other countries.)

As former gang member Adam Ellis says: “It’s easier to blame a young Black male for the ills of society than to turn the lens and say what’s really happening here.” Year of the Gun attempts to do just that: to turn the focus on Toronto and look at what decades of underinvestment in marginalized and impoverished communities has done.

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Gun violence, by the numbers
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Louis March from the Zero Gun Violence Movement understands this underinvestment all too well, having been a community advocate for more than 30 years. “[It’s] poverty, period, in its various forms. It’s lack of supports; it’s lack of resources; it’s a lack of a way out. Why aren’t we working toward closing that gap?” he asks. “We know that 60 to 70 per cent of the shootings take place in community housing. Is that not an early intervention point?”

And yet the goal of seriously addressing the problems that plague low-income communities remains ever out of reach. Residents watch as successive governments offer little more than token investments in programs to help disadvantaged youth while allocating tens of millions of dollars in new funding to law enforcement agencies.

The question remains, as Sureya Ibrahim, a community worker in Regent Park, puts it: “How many Black kids [do] we have to lose in order to say, ‘Enough is enough’?”