Scarborough battles a bad first impression

What do people think of when they hear the word Scarborough? What images come to mind when mention of Toronto’s sprawling eastern suburb is made?

According to the chair of the Scarborough Community Council Norm Kelly, most people ‑ if they follow the Toronto news ‑ are led to think of crime, violence, and gang’s; but the reality is Scarborough is one of the safest places to live.

Kelly grew up in Scarborough, which is why he wanted to represent the city. A year ago, he presented a proposal to the media where he asked news outlets to report the scene of a crime at its actual location, and to refrain from using blanket descriptions that single out Scarborough as a whole. Those news agencies contacted refused Kelly’s request.

There have been many articles and stories done on Scarborough, including one in Toronto Life magazine called, ‘The Scarborough Curse,’ and one by the Toronto Star entitled, ‘Scarlem’.

With the Toronto Life article, writer Don Gillmor cited criminal cases that happened throughout Toronto. For example, in September 2007, Dineshkumar Murugiah, 16, was stabbed to death in an  attack at the Kennedy subway station.

According to Toronto Life, the murder was Toronto’s 57th homicide. But, said Gillmor, Murugiah’s case wasn’t given the same coverage as Jane Creba’s much publicized Boxing Day murder of 2006.

Media treatment, which some say propagates a bias, is one of the major factors staining Scarborough’s image. “One of the writers did the story on the murder at Kennedy subway station,” Kelly said, while another writer did a story on the murder at C.W. Jefferys and the stories were from different angles.

Crime reporting creates a perception

“The guy who did the Kennedy subway story used the community by saying it was too multicultural and then blamed the city of Scarborough. The guy who did the C.W. Jeffreys case talked about the school, parents, and then blamed the Toronto District Board of Education,” Kelly said.

“Scarborough does have a low crime rate from what I know, but a steady flow crime reporting adds to the perception that there really is a ‘Scarberian-type’ of wasteland out here, Kelly said.

According to Statistics Canada, the overall crime rate in Toronto dropped by five per cent in 2005. In fact, Ontario and Quebec have the lowest crime rate, and the youth crime rate in Toronto dropped by two per cent in 2005 as well.

No real proof or evidence has been found that would prove that Scarborough is a dangerous area, so why do people feel this way?

A census report done in 2001 showed the growth rate in Scarborough was more than six per cent, the highest growth in the city. According to the online encyclopedia, if this trend continues, by 2010 Scarborough will have the largest population within the Greater Toronto area.

Kelly recalls back in the 1950s, when Scarborough’s best-known area was Kingston Road; there was farmland everywhere, which then changed into housing. “It was a wasteland,” Kelly said, “but look at it now. Go to the Bluffs. Look at the landscape, the trees, but unfortunately, first impressions stick.”

Kelly isn’t the only person who has a positive view on Scarborough. Ward 43 Councillor Paul Ainslie feels the same way. “I grew up in Scarborough, specifically, Ward 43,” said Ainslie. “I wanted to make a difference in Scarborough as a community for families who, in turn, make up a tight knit community.”

Like Kelly, Ainslie says the media’s coverage of crime plays a part in generating a poor image of Scarborough. “It’s the largest geographical location of all the pre-amalgamation cities,” Ainslie said, “and it’s an easy target. Other cities aren’t named, and the media targets Scarborough very easily.”

A census report in 2001 by Statistics Canada showed that 54 per cent of the people living in Scarborough are foreign born. 17 per cent are of Chinese descent, 10 per cent are black Canadians, and five per cent are Filipino.

Scarborough’s points of pride

Scarborough is also home to the Toronto Zoo, Toyota, CTV and celebrities such as, Mike Myers, Eric McCormack and some of the members of the Barenaked Ladies. Musicians such as Maestro, Choclair, Kardinall Offishal, and Brass munk all hail from Scarborough.

‘The people of Scarborough need to show they’re proud of their city,” Ainslie said. “We need to let them know of our wonderful parkland, for example, the Bluffs, Thomson park, and Rouge valley, just to name a few.”

Yet they’re those, such as former Toronto police officer Barry Noble Gretzkey, who have seen the meaner streets of ‘Scarlem’.

Like Toronto Life’s Gillmor, Gretzkey, who worked out of 42 Division, says his work experience has given him a different view point; both believe Scarborough has its rough edges.

“I worked as a police officer for 1994 to 2005, a total of 10 years, and it was quite an experience,” said Gretzkey said. “Scarborough is the busiest area in Toronto, and it does have the highest crime rate.

“I enjoyed working as a police officer,” Gretzkey said. “But it was always so busy. People were coming in and out, I worked from 11:30 p.m. to 7 a.m. and it was so crazy that I never really got a lunch break.”

“In the ephemeral world of Scarborough gangs,” Gillmor wrote, “there is violence within ethnic groups and between ethnic groups.” Toronto Life cited the example of Murugiah, and how his murder raised the issue of gangs, and thus, so goes Scarborough.

Gretzkey grew up in Scarborough, and his mom lives near Scarborough Town Centre, and he remembers when his neighbours would leave their doors open, and he would just come and go. “It’s so out of control now,” Gretzkey said, “there aren’t enough police officers, and the bad guys are running the city. You have to be pro-active, you just can’t be left to pick up the pieces.”

“First impressions will stick,” Kelly believes. “And you can’t really do anything to change them.”