At a community safety meeting Tuesday night in a community where a 16-year-old’s life was cut short just days ago, the need for action to combat the problem of gun violence was palpable.
Dozens turned out to the meeting at Falstaff Community Centre, organized by Coun. with Toronto police, Toronto Community Housing and the city, to hear from residents about security issues in the community and to respond to their concerns.
“Today I’m asking for your help,” Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders said to attendees. “Please work with us.”
Ahead of that plea came a commitment from TCH chief executive officer Kevin Marshman to do more to address what some residents have decried as a woeful lack of security at their buildings.
Starting in September, said Marshman, full-time security officers will be stationed in the Jane and Fallstaff community. Also coming, he said, is enhanced lighting around the buildings and cameras on the roadways coming in and out of the complex that can capture licence plates.
Changes coming, says TCH
Marshman added that TCH also hopes to conduct a community safety audit — a joint effort with police and residents to physically walk around the properties to identify gaps in security and what needs to be done to make things safer.
The community housing CEO also maintained the spike in violence seen at TCH properties is, to him, reflective of the larger spike in the city — a situation Mayor John Tory called both “heartbreaking” and “frustrating” after a violent long weekend that saw 17 people shot over 14 separate incidents.
According to statistics by the Toronto Police Service, the number of shooting incidents in Toronto in 2018 was two and half times more than in 2014.
The measures by TCH are a positive, some residents told CBC News, but aren’t entirely without concern.
“We have to be very cautious,” said Saunders, “because when we did the modernization plan… one of the things they had great concerns [about] was, ‘We don’t want to be surveilled. We don’t want cameras continuously watching us all the time,'” he said.
‘He had so much life’
An easy first step, said Deeqa Alivarre, would be to have working security cameras in hallways and elevators.
Alivarre, who is visiting from the United States, was emotional as she spoke to reporters about her nephew, 16-year-old Hanad Abdullahi, killed Thursday when shots rang out at the building at 30 Falstaff Ave., near Jane St. and Hwy. 401.
Abdullahi was pronounced dead in the stairwell after an evening out playing video games, friends told CBC News.
“My nephew Hanad was an amazing kid and I don’t want the outside people to think he was a bad kid and that this is why what happened, happened,” said Alivarre.
“He had so much life, so much ambition, so many things to look forward to and his life was cut short all because he lives here. And something has to change.”
Alivarre’s older sister Fadouma, now a U.S. resident, said she used to live in Toronto nearly two decades ago. It was a different time, she said.
“Toronto was one of the best, most peaceful places on Earth,” she said. “Now, I don’t know. Every kid is looking around when he’s coming and going.”
“We came from war, we didn’t come for another war,” she said.
No word on whether Ottawa will support gun ban
The city’s mayor has pushed for a handgun ban and city council debated a handgun ban in June, but it would require action by both the federal and provincial governments.
As residents met Tuesday, police continue their search for three people believed to be connected with Abdullahi’s death. There have been no arrests so far.
And while safety was undoubtedly on the minds of Abdullahi’s family and friends, the pain of his loss was still very much raw.
“They took away my child’s life,” said Hodan Ali. “He was only a child, he was only 16,” she said, adding Abdullahi only turned 16 on June 22nd.
“Now he’s staying in heaven.”