Toronto Gang Violence: Tracing Broader Societal Issues

Toronto Gang Violence: Tracing Broader Societal Issues
Police investigate a car with a bullet hole at the scene of a shooting in east Toronto, on July 23, 2018. (The Canadian Press/Christopher Katsarov)
Lee Harding

Recent gun violence in Toronto and the tragic death of a 12-year-old innocent bystander have ties to deep societal issues, experts say.

On the afternoon of Nov. 7, Dante Sebastian Andreatta was grocery shopping with his mother in Toronto’s Jane and Finch area when he was hit by a stray bullet. He died in hospital four days later.

The shooting began when two vehicles entered a parking lot near Jane Street and Strong Court around 2:20 p.m. Two occupants of one car got out and started firing at the second vehicle, chasing it outside of the lot while firing about 30 rounds.

Three people in the second car were hit, including a 17-year-old, but all have since been released from hospital.

Jahwayne Smart, 25, and Rashawn Chambers, 24, face charges including first-degree murder, attempted murder, and aggravated assault, for a combined total of 59 charges.

Neighbourhoods in the Greater Toronto Area are struggling with steady increases in gangs, guns, and related crime, and solutions are hard to come by. But one expert says more dads in homes would help keep kids from joining gangs.

“The gang problem is largely a daddy problem,” says Mary Eberstadt, author of “Primal Screams: How the Sexual Revolution Created Identity Politics.”

“Kids from intact homes don’t usually join gangs. Kids from fatherless homes do. The gangs operate as substitute families, conferring protection and belonging on lonely, disconnected young men.”

Eberstadt found that fatherlessness is a remarkably common thread among those at the vanguard of identity politics.

“The implication for policy-makers is clear, if not necessarily simple: Find and back incentives that encourage marriage and family formation, that give dads in particular new reasons to stay at home,” she says.

“This may seem daunting, but nothing is more daunting than the tragedy of children caught in the crossfire of warring groups that try and fail to substitute for the family.”

The Minnesota Psychological Association reports that youths who never had a father living with them have high incarceration rates, while father-only households have the same low incarceration rates from those of two-parent households. Fatherlessness is also associated with a higher likelihood of being bullied, experiencing abuse, showing aggression, drug use, association with delinquent peers, and joining a gang.

“The active involvement of a father with his children can promote empathy and self-control for the child throughout life,” the report authors write.

“A high percentage of gang members come from father-absent homes, possibly resulting from a need for a sense of belonging. Gaining that sense of belonging is an important element for all individuals. Through gangs, youth find a sense of community and acceptance. In addition, the gang leader may fill the role of father, often leading members to model their behaviours after that individual.”

Paul Adams, a professor emeritus of social work at the University of Hawaii, says divorce laws need to change.

“No-fault divorce is kind of a disaster because it makes marriage the only kind of contract that basically is not a real contract. There’s no enforcement,” Adams said in an interview.

“You’re taking away a big incentive to work things out and even the sense that you can rely on each other and count on each other.”

“People are not willing to face the truth. I understand. I’ve been through a divorce myself. It happens…But it has consequences that we have to face.”

The day after the Nov. 7 shooting in Toronto, interim police chief James Ramer and Toronto Mayor John Tory visited the area to talk to community members. He was there to “listen and to see if we can find a better way to deal with these problems,” Tory said.

In a statement, the community organization Jane Finch Action Against Poverty responded that “We do not need policing, rather we need less crowded and safer buses, decent housing, safe, secure and living-wage jobs, and sustainable funding for programs and services in our community.”

Adams disagrees, noting that gang violence grows in the absence of good policing.

“Rather than defund the police, we need more and better policing,” Adams said in an interview. He says that when police neglect an area, “People find a way to impose order on disunity, and it’s done through gangs, essentially.”

The certainty of getting caught deters crime, he explains, and that requires adequate resources for police detective work.

“When you establish a level of law and order, people feel protected. They’re more willing to talk to the police, and then more community-level policing approaches may start to have some relevance. … That’s crucial and it’s kind of a mistake to say, let’s go community and do away with armed police.”