You Can’t See the Street From Your Ivory Tower

You Can’t See the Street From Your Ivory Tower

In the wake of the recent shooting at the Eaton Centre and the Danzig Shootings in Scarborough on Monday, much attention has been turned to solving the problem of gun violence.

As usual a dichotomy has been created between cultural and systemic explanations for violent crime, with those who favor cultural explanations calling for a tough on crime agenda and those with systemic explanations asking for more social programs. Margaret Wente’s Globe and Mail article is perhaps the worst example of the former.

Wente’s article, which attributes gun violence to broken families and suggests reforms to the Youth Criminal Justice Act as a solution, is rootless, both in evidence and in the fabric of Toronto. Surely, children who, like me, grow up without the guidance of two parents are likely to face related challenges in growing up.

However, in trying to move beyond what Wente calls “Band-Aid solutions” of social programs, we must recognize there are groups in Toronto already working to provide the support for young parents and young men. There are already groups working to overcome the problem of broken families and create a community where young people have nurturing “expectations, role models, structure, consistency, discipline and support.”

One such example is the Young and Potential Fathers initiative, located at 1901 Weston Road in downtown Toronto. Affiliated with the YMCA, this organization provides a space, programming, and support staff to prepare young fathers to play a meaningful role in their children’s lives and provide for their families financially and emotionally. They work with dozens of fathers and future fathers to put together the pieces of broken families or prevent families from falling apart in the first place.

Why do articles like Wente’s fail to mention such organizations as solutions when discussing the problem of broken families and their connection to violent crime? Why would we not turn to these groups for suggestions on how to solve this problem and better encourage their efforts? Wente and others with little if any experience addressing these important community challenges are determined to discuss its causes and promote solutions.

It is a wonder why this is the case when we consider that one would be hard pressed to find an editorial on The Globe and Mail discussing molecular biology or a comparative history of constitutional commerce clauses by people with no expertise or experience in the issues. We should demand the same respect for complex social problems and cultural issues, and turn to experts like YPF who encounter problems of broken families daily.

Wente’s lack of familiarity with the issues is further highlighted by her proposed solution of incarcerating more “vicious young offenders.” Taking a look south of the border at the United States, the country with the highest incarceration rate in the world, and you can find countless lessons that demonstrate that increased incarceration does not lead to a decrease in crime.

In fact, increasing incarceration will only exacerbate the problem of broken families, and one cannot expect youth offenders to find the adequate role models they require inside the walls of a prison. Clearly, as with many things in our city and our country, we should demand something better and identify and encourage the efforts of YPF, who may have an answer to the problem of violent crime we’re all looking at this summer.

Jamil Jivani J.D. Candidate, Yale Law School  Jamil Jivani J.D. Candidate, Yale Law School