By Suzanne Ma
Police are hoping to put two dozen new officers in the downtown core — including the area surrounding Ryerson — over the next few weeks.
Despite an increase in media attention and community concerns following the shooting death of 15-year-old Jane Creba on Boxing Day, police officials say the plans were in the works before the shooting.
“Toronto is an incredibly safe city,” said Superintendent Jeffrey McGuire of 51 division. “I know it’s difficult to accept in light of what’s happened. But we do have officers in the area almost all the time and make sure officers are out there and visible so that people feel safe.”
It was the fourth shooting around Ryerson campus in 2005, but students such as Nicole Guthrie weren’t surprised to hear the news. “It doesn’t faze me all that much,” said the third-year Early Childhood Education student. “I live at Sherbourne and Dundas, there are shootings all the time around here.” Creba was shot in front of the Foot Locker on Yonge Street — caught in the cross-fire of a daylight shooting believed to have erupted between two gangs.
The shooting wounded six bystanders and sent shoppers on Yonge Street running for cover. Guthrie said she was saddened by Creba’s death, but she’s never been worried about her own safety on campus. “I don’t think people should be scared of Toronto. It’s a big city and shootings happen,” she said.
City councillor Kyle Rae agreed, saying the Ryerson community has always been safe. “I think Ryerson students are aware that they are living and studying in an inner city. It is a well-policed neighbourhood and therefore it is a safe neighbourhood. “One of the great things about Ryerson is that it’s not isolated from the world,” Rae said.
“Ryerson is woven into the fabric of the city and part of that fabric, unfortunately, is an increase in violence.” Ryerson President Sheldon Levy said that security will remain a high priority for Ryerson. He cited a survey done by the university in 2005 that found nine of 10 students felt security on campus was adequate.
People continued to place flowers, candles, cards and stuffed animals at the site where Creba was shot up until this weekend. The city removed the memorial due to safety concerns. Meanwhile, groups have been calling for action from politicians to protect the public. Ryerson student Adam Chaleff-Freudenthaler has been involved in the debate as a member of the Toronto Youth Cabinet, an advocacy group that represents young people on issues of guns and gangs.
“We can see that the actions of the government are not in tune with the needs of today’s youth,” Chaleff-Freudenthaler said. “We’re trying to close that discrepancy.” Chaleff-Freudenthaler, who is also Vice-President Academic of CESAR, says he wants to restore hope in young people. “When a young person doesn’t believe they can grow up to be what they want to be and do what they want to do, we see those young people pick up guns,” he said.
“We need a social system to restore that hope.”
The Youth Cabinet repeated a request to meet with Prime Minister Paul Martin during a rally held on Saturday. More than 100 young people marched through downtown Toronto, past the site where Creba was killed. The provincial government has announced that it will speed up the hiring process for police and crown prosecutors. It will also fund a state-of-the-art operations centre dedicated to fighting guns and gangs.
While more police in the city may make people feel safe, Rae cited numerous downtown shootings that occurred in heavily policed areas. “The presence of police officers does not present a deterrent to these vile youth who do not respect lives and the society they live in,” he said.
Tinisha Lewis, a third-year Hotel and Tourism Management student agreed.
“People are always talking about gun laws and police, but things won’t change until the values of society change. Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.”