Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Is Toronto Safe?

Tuesday July 17, 5:15 p.m.

One of the issues that I'd initially wrestled with when I made the decision to come home for good was about crime. I mean, it wasn't a dealbreaker issue...I was coming home regardless but I did wonder about getting used to the so-called mean streets of Toronto after spending years in Tokyo, which is generally regarded as one of the safest big cities on the planet. Case in point: the street where my old Ichikawa apartment was located on was never one of the most brightly-lit, and yet even when I came home from work at around midnight (which was often), the thought of being mugged or worse never ever entered my mind in the 17 years that I'd lived in my small abode. I walked my 10 minutes home in the relative dark fully secure. That doesn't mean that Tokyo or my bedroom town of Ichikawa City was a Paradise Unto Earth. Crime did occur in the Big Sushi, whether it be the unfortunately steadily rising phenomenon of convenience store robberies or murders. Single women and elderly couples living alone have been killed by robbers or psychos over the past several years. Still, when I consider things like per capita rates and the general perception of security of urban living, my adopted home was indeed safe.

Getting back home in December, I quickly got tuned into the latest shooting somewhere in the GTA. In fact, it wasn't too difficult to hear about some sort of knifing (which was the prototypical example of assault or murder in Japan) or shooting on a nearly daily basis as the Holidays passed by. But I was able to let it slide down my back and shrugged it off as just being the necessarily evil part of urban life. I was able to get used to those mean streets. Whenever I went out to meet friends, it was almost always into the northern parts of town, nowhere near the downtown core (on New Year's Eve, I saw some ugliness on the subway and was just thankful that I didn't have to stay onboard that long). If I came home at night, I always kept my wits about me even in my neighbourhood which, knock on wood, has been pretty safe for a long time now.

But it looks like The Summer of the Gun II has come to Toronto. There have been four high-profile and very public shootings in the past number of weeks. Eaton Centre, Little Italy, some festival downtown, and then last night's spree in Scarbourough where 2 people were killed and over a dozen injured because of some altercation at a block party. But there have also been the small ones....such as the one a few nights ago when some nutjob fired a few rounds around Spadina and Queen, the only casualty being a parking meter. I've often walked through that intersection during the day, and back in my university days, I often had late-night dinners with friends in Chinatown just a few minutes north of that intersection. I don't think I've been able to do that for some years.

So the question is: Is Toronto safe? Well, Mayor Rob Ford just announced insistently that Toronto is indeed safe. I didn't see the news conference myself but I can imagine that he used the expression, "....just an isolated incident..."for the gun battle last night. He may continue bleating that mantra even if similar crimes happen over the next few weeks since he's shown he doesn't give a care about what anyone else has to say. On the other side, there will be certain news columnists and a number of citizens who will declare Canada's largest city a cesspool of iniquity....the real-life version of Gotham City without a Batman to hunt and destroy the scum.

I'm not quite in the middle. I tend toward the side that feels Toronto is not in a great state...at least for now. But I don't think the city has fallen into the chasm. I can still go out with friends and family into areas that are safe and even friendly. A festival was held in front of City Hall today in which Mayor Ford was boogeying away (a memory that I would like erased). Toronto has good safe neighbourhoods and the vast majority of Torontonians are decent people. However, all that has been overshadowed by the impression that anything bad can happen in even the safest of areas. My other fear is that this impression will be adopted permanently by us. People may just visit this certain area of the city because there is "only"a 30% chance of a gun battle happening.

Politicians and statisticians will love to state that the number of gun deaths is lower than at the same time last year or that this is the odd blip on the graph. But for the rest of us, all these shootings, big or small, few or many, scare the devil out of us. If they can happen at an enjoyable block party or a cafe in the middle of a soccer celebration or in one of the largest shopping malls in the country, they can happen in any block on any street in this city.