It’s difficult to fathom what Hassan, a 22-year-old Toronto resident in the Somali community, has been through:
Monday, November 26, 2012
Friend Abdikarim Ahmed Abdikarim gunned down in Lawrence Heights in 2008. Basketball teammate Vincent Wright shot in the head two years later. A younger brother in jail.
“What I’ve experienced has caused a lot of pain,” says Hassan, who, to protect his brother, doesn’t want his last name published. “If there’s a youth going through the criminal justice system, going through violence, who’s been killed, you can see the dramatic effects throughout the family.
“It’s quite devastating, to say the least. And there’s a lot more. I could go on for an hour about the different people who’ve passed away,” he says. But he declines, saying that’s not the point.
What is the point for Hassan, now a fourth year U of T student majoring in history and criminology, is breaking the cycle.
He is one of five youth experts who will speak on a Defence for Children International-Canada panel on the roots of youth violence, at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the University of Toronto’s Innes Town Hall.
Back in 2007, Premier Dalton McGuinty commissioned a report on the risk factors that lead to youth violence. It was released the following year, but didn’t get a government mandate until after the mass shootings took place on Danzig St. in July.
The Review of the Roots of Youth Violence has now been made part of a cabinet-level provincial committee’s work. The committee will report annually on youth outcomes, one of the review’s recommendations.
The report cites multiple risk factors for youth violence: That high housing costs or deliberate planning end up creating clusters of people living in poverty. That racism is worse than a generation ago. That kids don’t connect well with the school system, and that they lack mentors in their communities.
Kids “see their parents struggling. They want this upward social mobility at its fastest rate,” says Hassan. “They’re not really willing to sacrifice and work hard, because there are no mentors out there.”
The result is a “redundant cycle of people getting involved in criminal activity.”
“A lot of people going along the wrong path,” says Hassan. “It’s sad. It’s the same story. It’s the same movie over and over again, but there are just different characters.”
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Children and Youth Services says that, although the report wasn’t given cabinet-level priority until earlier this year, it did influence government decisions about poverty-reduction strategies, such as tax benefits, nutrition programs and investments in affordable housing.
“They’ve moved pretty slowly,” says former attorney general Roy McMurtry, who co-wrote the report with former MPP Alvin Curling. “And things didn’t really pick up again until all the tragic shootings that occurred in Scarborough.”
He and Curling recommended the province invest money and collaborate with community agencies, youth and local governments.
“One of the biggest problems we have in our society is this culture of silos,” he says. “We have it in governments, and even within government there is often a lack of coordination in marshalling the existing resources.”