Guns an election issue, candidate says following Oct. 6 shootings

Connecting youth to mentors key to reducing youth violence, Ward 12 contender Lekan Olawoye says

Outside, rain wet the streets.

Inside, tears wet the faces of Zaid Youssef’s friends, family and fellow students.

They gathered in the Don Bosco Catholic Secondary School auditorium on Oct. 20 to mourn the 17-year-old, who was shot in broad daylight near the school on Oct. 6.

He was one of three young men fatally shot that day in Toronto. A 15-year-old student from James Cardinal McGuigan Catholic High School and a man in his early 20s were also killed by gunfire.

“There is obviously a [gun] issue in Toronto, if we look at what has happened this week,” said Lekan Olawoye, executive director of the non-profit For Youth Initiative and candidate for city council in Ward 12.

Before the shooting deaths on Oct. 6, the issue of gun violence had not been a major topic in the mayoral race ahead of the Oct. 27 municipal election, said Jennifer Pagliaro, city hall reporter for the Toronto Star.

At a debate in Leaside the day after the shootings, mayoral frontrunners Doug Ford, Olivia Chow and John Tory were asked if they were worried Toronto was headed toward the same level of gun crime as many cities in the U.S. face.

It was one of the few times during the campaign the candidates have spoken about gun crime, Pagliaro said, adding it is not as prevalent an issue here as it is south of the border.

“I think you have to look at it in the context of other cities of our size,” said Pagliaro, who was at the Oct. 7 Leaside debate. “Obviously in Canada we don’t have that problem.”

But work remains to be done, said Olawoye,

“One young person being murdered by gun or knife is unacceptable,” he said. “We need to look at the root causes and increase young people’s connections to mentors to reduce youth violence in our city.”

That’s the sort of approach Chow is advocating, said Jamey Heath, communications director for the Chow campaign.

“The overarching solution is to make sure that we don’t leave the neighbourhoods behind,” Heath said. “One approach Olivia will implement is the multidisciplinary approach, where you bring together social service agencies with the police and work together so that you have different ways of dealing with problems before they become real problems.”

Olawoye agreed prevention should be at the heart of city hall’s efforts to fight gun crime.

“We cannot police our way out of violence,” he said. “The police have a role to play but police don’t stop violence. Police are there after the fact.

“We want to ensure that people are not being murdered or committing violent acts by providing them with what they need.”