Laura Schneider, 62, has been living in East York for 20 years but only in recent years has started to fear local violence.
On Halloween night Schneider heard the shots that rang out at 145 Cosburn Ave. near Pape Avenue.
“It’s really been noticeable in the last couple of years that violence has picked up, so it’s kind of frightening,” says Schneider who lives nearby. “It feels like this is becoming Jane and Finch.”
Many in the area are fearful their neighbourhoods are becoming more violent. A 16-year-old boy struck and killed. A man shot dead in a stairwell. A Halloween horror worse than any scary costume.
But should residents be afraid?
Scot Wortley is a professor at the Centre for Criminology and Sociolegal Studies at the University of Toronto. He says that residents probably shouldn’t be fearful.
“Often small changes in the level of violence can lead to big increases in fear. Particularly if those upticks are receiving a great deal of media coverage,” Wortley says. “If there is a change in the reporting of these incidents… and increased coverage, that alone can increase fear of crime without there actually being a dramatic increase in criminal incidents.”
Anthony Doob, a criminologist at the University of Toronto, says that this kind of fear is common.
“None of us are very good at differentiating what we hear about and what we read about from the kind of objective things,” Doob says. “‘I’m hearing about a whole bunch of murders.’ Then when you see a police car you think of that rather than think about the fact that police cars go down every street in Toronto.”
While shootings and overall violent crime in East York may be increasing, the number of homicides in the area is not.
East York has experienced two murders this year so far.
From 2004 to 2019, the yearly number of homicides in East York has ranged from one to four, except in 2017 with a high of seven murders in the area and 2009 with zero.
Similar to 2019, the years 2004, 2005, 2007, 2013, and 2018 saw only two murders. During 2018, Toronto’s most deadly year, East York remained relatively unscathed.
Some East York residents don’t think their neighbourhood is becoming more violent.
“It happens all over the city, it’s not just East York,” says Tonja S., an East York resident who did not want to give her full last name.
James Black also lives in the area of the Halloween night attack.
“It was definitely closer to me than it was in the past. I heard the gunshots very clearly, so that was upsetting” says Black. “I don’t know if it’s more [violence], it’s just definitely here.”